Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; And whereas, no answer, whatever, to the humble petitions of the colonies for redress of grievances and reconciliation with Great Britain, has been or is likely to be given; but, the whole force of that kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; And whereas, it appears absolutely irreconcileable to reason and good Conscience, for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain, and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted, under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, -virtue, and good order, as well as for the defence of their lives, liberties, and properties, against the hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies; therefore . . .
Resolved, That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies,
where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established, to adopt such
government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and
safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general. C.
Forasmuch as all the endeavours of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the King and Parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British Government, and a reunion with that people upon just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive Administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction: -By a late act all these Colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British Crown, our properties subjected to confiscation, our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countrymen, and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just; fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes; the King's representative in this Colony hath not only withheld all the powers of Government from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us, tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the Crown and Government of Great Britain, uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence, and forming alliances with foreign Powers for commerce and aid in war Wherefore, appealing to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of former declarations expressing our desire to preserve the connection with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal law of self-preservation:
Resolved, unanimously, That the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown of Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.
Richard Henry Lee Resolves for Independence in Congress: (June 7, 1776)#
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration
[ * These excerpts are to be found in Peter Force (ed.), American Archives ( 1837-1853), 4th ser., vol. VI, p. 1524.
# These excerpts are to be found in Journals of the Continental Congress, vol. V p. 425.]
Philadelphia 20th March 1776.
. . . . The act of Parliament prohibiting all Trade and Commerce between Great Britain and the Colonies has been lately brought here by a Mr. Temple from London. it makes all American property found on the Sea liable to Seizure and confiscation and I fear it will make the Breach between the two Countries so wide as never more to be reconciled. We have heard much talk of Commissioners to be sent to treat with us. I do not expect any. the act of Parliament empowers the King to appoint Commissioners to receive submissions and grant pardons but no further. Doctor Franklin told me last evening he had a Letter from London dated the 25th December, no Commissioners were then appointed, parliament was prorogued to 25th of January. I see no prospect of a reconciliation. nothing is left now but to fight it out, and for this we are not well provided, having but little ammunition, no Arms no money, (nor are we unanimous in our Councils. we do not treat each other with that decency and respect that was observed heretofore. Jealousies, ill natured observations and recriminations take place of reason and Argument our Tempers are sound. some among us urge strongly for Independency and eternal separation, others wish to wait a little longer and to have the opinion of their Constituents on that subject. You must give us the sentiment of your province when your Convention meets. Several Merchants and others have petitioned the Congress for leave to fit out privateers to Cruize against British Vessels. it was granted yesterday. the Restrictions are not yet completed or I would have sent you a copy of them. I send you the last News paper enclosed to which refer for news.
My Compliments to all.
The delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states, that they are absolved from all obedience to the British Crown, and that all political connection between then and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.
The house being obliged to attend at that time to some other business, the proposition was referred to the next day when the members were ordered to attend punctually at ten o'clock.
Saturday June 8th they proceeded to take it into consideration, and referred it to a committee of the whole, into which they immediately resolved themselves, and passed that day and Monday the 10th in debating on the subject.
It was argued by [James] Wilson, Robert R. Livingston, E[dward] Rutledge, [John] Dickinson, and others:
That though they were friends to the measures themselves and saw the impossibility that we should ever again be united with Great Britain, yet they were against adopting them at this time;
That the conduct we had formerly observed was wise and proper now of deferring to take any capital step till the voice of the people drove us into it;
That they were our power and without them our declarations could not be carried into effect;
That the people of the middle colonies (Maryland, Delaware Pennsylvania, the Jersies, and N[ew] York) were not yet ripe for bidding adieu to British connection but that they were fast ripening and in a short time would join in the general voice America;
That the resolution entered into by this house on the 15th of May for suppressing the exercise of all powers derived from the Crown had shown, by the ferment into which it had thrown these middle colonies, that they had not yet accommodated their minds to a separation from the mother country;
That some of them had expressly forbidden their delegates to consent to such a declaration, and others had given no instructions, and consequently no powers to give such consent;
That if the delegates of any particular colony had no power to declare such colony independent, certain they were the others could not declare it for them the colonies being as yet perfectly independent of each other.
That the Assembly of Pennsylvania was now sitting above stairs their convention would sit within a few days; the convention of New York was now sitting, and those of the Jersies and Delaware counties would meet on the Monday following, and it was probable these bodies would take up the question of independence, and would declare to their delegates the voice of their state;
That if such a declaration should now be agreed to, these delegates must retire and possibly their colonies might secede from the Union:
That such a secession would weaken us more than could be compensated by any foreign alliance:
That in the event of such a division foreign powers would either refuse to join themselves to our fortunes, or having us so much in their power as that desperate declaration would place us they would insist on terms proportionably more hard and prejudicial:
That we had little reason to expect an alliance with those to whom alone as yet we had cast our eyes:
That France and Spain had reason to be jealous of that rising power which would one day certainly strip them of all their American possessions:
That it was more likely they should form a connection with the British court, who, if they should find themselves unable otherwise to extricate themselves from their difficulties, would agree to a partition of our territories, restoring Canada to France, and the Floridas to Spain, to accomplish for themselves a recovery of these colonies:
That it would not be long before we should receive certain information of the disposition of the French court, from the agent whom we had sent to Paris for that purpose.
That if this disposition should be favourable, by waiting the event of the present campaign, which we all hoped would be successful, we should have reason to expect an alliance on better terms:
That this would in fact work no delay of any effectual aid from such ally, as, from the advance of the season, and distance of our situation, it was impossible we could receive any assistance during this campaign:
That it was prudent to fix among ourselves the terms on which we would form alliance, before we declared we would form one at all events:
And that if these were agreed on and our Declaration of Independence ready by the time our Ambassador should be ready to sail, it would be as well as to go into that Declaration at this day.
On the other side it was urged by J. Adams, Lee, Wythe and others
That no gentleman had argued against the policy or the right of separation from Britain, nor had supposed it possible we should ever renew our confection; that they had, only opposed it's being now declared:
That the question was not whether, by a declaration of Independance, we should make ourselves what we are not; but whether we should declare a fact which already exists:
That as to the people or parliament of England, we had alwais been independant of them, their restraints on our trade deriving efficacy from our acquiescence only, and not from any rights they possessed of imposing them, and that so far our connection had been federal only, and was now dissolved by the commencement of hostilities:
That as to the king, we had been bound to him by allegiance, but that this bond was now dissolved by his assent to the late act of parliament, by which he declares us out of his protection, and by his levying war on us, a fact which had long ago proved us out of his protection; it being a certain position in law that allegiance and protection are reciprocal, the one ceasing when the other is withdrawn:
That James the IId never declared the people of England out of his protection; yet his actions proved it, and the parliament declared it:
No delegates then can be denied, or ever want a power of declaring an existent truth:
That the delegates from the Delaware counties having declared their constituents ready to join, there are only two colonies Pennsylvania and Maryland, whose delegates are absolutely tied up, and that these had by their instructions only reserved a right of confirming or rejecting the measure:
That the instructions from Pennsylvania might be accounted for from the times in which they were drawn, near a twelvemonth ago, since which the face of affairs has totally changed:
That within that time it had become apparent that Britain was determined to accept nothing less than a carte blanche, and that the king's answer to the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and common council of London which had come to hand four days ago, must have satisfied every one of this point:
That the people wait for us to lead the way:
That they are in favor of the measure, tho' the instructions given by some of their representatives are not:
That the voice of the representatives is not alwais consonant with the voice of the people, and that this is remarkably the case in these middle colonies:
That the backwardness of these two colonies might be ascribed partly to the influence of proprietary power and connections, and partly to their having not ret been attacked by the enemy:
That these causes were not likely to be soon removed, as there seemed no probability that the enemy would make either of these the seat of this summer's war:
That it would be vain to wait either weeks or months for perfect unanimity, since it was impossible that all men should ever become of one sentiment on any question:
That the conduct of some colonies, from the beginning of this contest, had given reason to suspect it was their settled policy to keep in the rear of the confederacy, that their particular prospect might be better, even in the worst event:
That therefore it was necessary for those colonies who had thrown themselves forward and hazard all from the beginning, to come forward now also, and put all again to their own hazard:
That the history of the Dutch revolution, of whom three states only confederated at first proved that a secession of some colonies would not be so dangerous as some apprehended:
That a declaration of fndependance alone could render it consistent with European delicacy for European powers to treat with us, or even to receive an Ambassador from us:
That till this they would not receive our vessels into their ports, nor acknowledge the adjudications of our courts of Admiralty to be legitimate, in cases of capture of British vessels:
That tho' France and Spain may be jealous of our rising power, they must think it will be much more formidable with the addition of Great Britain; and will therefore see it their interest to prevent a coalition; but should they refuse, we shall be but where we are; whereas without trying we shall never know whether they will aid us or not:
That the present campaign may be unsuccessful, and therefore we had better propose an alliance while our affairs wear a hopeful aspect:
That to wait the event of this campaign will certainly work delay, because during this summer France may assist us effectually by cutting off those supplies of provisions from England and Ireland on which the enemy's armies here are to depend; or by setting in motion the great power they have collected in the West Indies, and calling our enemy to the defence of the possessions they have there:
That it would be idle to lose time in settling the terms of alliance, till we had first determined we would enter into alliance:
That it is necessary to lose no time in opening a trade for our people, who will want clothes, and will want money too for the paiment of taxes:
And that the only misfortune is that we did not enter into alliance with France six months sooner, as, besides opening their ports for the vent of our last year's produce, they might have marched an army into Germany and prevented the petty princes there from selling their unhappy subjects to subdue us.
It appearing in the course of these debates that the colonies of New York, N. Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland were not yet natured for falling from the parent stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait a while for them, and to postpone the final decision to July 1. but that this might occasion as little delay as possible, a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration of independence. the commee were J. Adams, Dr Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston and myself. committees were also appointed at the same time to prepare a plan of confederation for the colonies, and to state the terms proper to be proposed for foreign alliance. the committee for drawing the declaration of independence desired me to do it. it was accordingly done, and being approved by them, I reported it to the house on Friday the 28th of June when it was read and ordered to lie on the table. On Monday the 1st of July the house resolved itself into a committee of the whole and resumed the consideration of the original motion made by the delegates of Virginia, which being again debated through the day, was carried in the affirmative by the votes of N. Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode island, N. Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, N. Carolina, and Georgia. S. Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against it. Delaware having but two members present they were divided: the delegates for N. York declared they were for it themselves, and were assured their constituents were for it, but that their instructions, having been drawn near a twelvemonth before, when reconciliation was still the general object, they were enjoined by them to do nothing which should impede that object. they therefore thought themselves not justifiable in voting on either side, and asked leave to withdraw from the question, which was given them. the commee rose and reported their resolution to the house. Mr Rutlege of S. Carolina then requested the determination might be put off to the next day, as he believed his collegues, tho they disapproved of the resolution, would then join in it for the sake of unanimity. the ultimate question whether the house would agree to the resolution of the commee, was accordingly postponed to the next day, when it was again moved and S. Carolina concurred in voting for it. in the mean time a third member had come post from the Delaware counties and turned the vote of that colony in favour of the resolution. members of a different sentiment attending that morning from Pennsylvania also, their vote was changed, so that the whole 12 colonies, who were authorized to vote at all, gave their voices for it; and within a few days the convention of N. York approved of it, and thus supplied the void occasioned by the withdrawing of their delegates from the vote.
Congress proceeded the same day to consider the declaration of Independance, which had been reported and
laid on the table the Friday preceding, and on Monday referred to a commee of the whole. the pusillanimous
idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with still haunted the minds of many. for this reason
those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out lest they should give them
offence. the clause too reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck out in complaisance to
S. Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the
contrary still wished to continue it. our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those
censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers
of them to others. the debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d, 3d and 4th days of July, were, in
the evening of the last, closed; the declaration was reported by the commee, agreed to by the house; and signed
by every member except mr Dickinson. as the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive,
but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported. the parts struck out
by Congress shall be distinguished by a black line drawn under them; and those inserted by them shall be
placed in the margin or in a concurrent column.
Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do." You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.
When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of this controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period, from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. At least, this is my judgment. Time must determine. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement, in States as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.
Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliances with foreign States. . . .
But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and well-meaning, though weak and mistaken people, have been gradually and, at last, totally extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their' own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions, which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.
But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and
treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all
the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the
means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust
in God we shall not.
The following excerpts are reprinted from Charles Francis Adams (ed.), The Works of John A dams ( 1854),
vol. IX, pp. 418-420.
The Unanimous Declaration Of The Thirteen United States of America
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands
which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal
station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of
mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the
governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the
People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient
causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are
sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long
train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reducethem under
absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new
Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the
necessity which constrains them to alter their former System of Government. The history of the present King
of Great Britian is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment
of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let the Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their
operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accomodation of large districts of people, unless those people
would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository
of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has desolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for oppressing with manly firmness his invasions on the
rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative
powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining
in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing Laws for
naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the
conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment
of their salaries.
He has errected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat
out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our Legislature.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the World;
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Provence, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boubdries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in
all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging war against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation
and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous
ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow-Citizens taken captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country,
to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our
frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages,
sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We havr Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus Marked by every act
which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been waiting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of
attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the
circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity,
and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would
inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and
of consanguinity. We must therefore, acquiese in the necessity which denounced our Separation, and hold
them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled,
appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the
authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are
and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British
Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britian, is and ought to be totally
dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract
Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, We
mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
John Hancock &c