Imágenes de páginas

indispensable, in order to secure the aid of other European "nations, in the struggle against England. The general dislike of continental Europe to the predominance of the power of Great Britain, gave just ground to anticipate their Co-operation, sooner or later, in a war to deprive her of such immense possessions. Besides these merely political views, looking to the humbling of a powerful and dreaded rival, it was considered that commercial considerations would influence them to the same course. The great and growing trade of the American colonies, that had been monopolized by Great Britain, was a prize to the mercantile interests of other states, for which large efforts and sacrifices would be made. These calculations could not, however, be made in favor of dependent provinces, struggling in rebellion against acknowledged authority. Treaties could be entered into, and aid, of men or money, asked for sufficient to give force and dignity to the contest, only as independent states; and hence the policy of severing at once, by a formal act, all dependence upon Great Britain, and assuming an attitude of sovereignty.

Reasonings of this nature, gradually ripened the minds of the colonies, to the great revolutionary measure of independence. The course of events brought it on by a moral and political necessity. As the non-importation agreements of 1773-4, were followed by the assumption of arms in 1775, so the commencement of hostilities produced the declaration of independence. The public mind, under the constant excitement of wrongs and sufferings from the unnatural mother country, and heated and at the same time enlightened by the acute discussions, and impassioned appeals of able men in behalf of liberty and resistance, was prepared to take the final step. During the winter and spring of 1776, the press teemed with gazettes, pamphlets, and judicial charges, enforcing the necessity and urging the wisdom of independence. Eminent individuals in all the colonies, devoted their time and talents to the dissemination of the same prin. ciples. The pamphlet of Thomas Paine, entitled “Common Sense,” had a wonderful effect, in diffusing plain and practical views of the question, expressed in a sententious and popular style. The charge of Judge Wm. H. Drayton of South Carolina, was remarkable for its boldness and effect. After drawing a contrast between the British government, and such a one as the colonists could erect for themselves,

and portraying in indignant terms the tyranny of Great Britian, he summed up thus emphatically :-" In short I think

it my duty to declare in the awful seat of justice and before 2: Almighty God, that in my opinion, the Americans can have

no safety but by the Divine favour, their own virtue, and 7 their being so prudent as 'not to leave it in the power

of the British rulers to injure them. Indeed, the ruinous [ and deadly injuries received on our side; and the jealousies 3 entertained and which, in the nature of things, must

daily increase against us, on the other; demonstrate to.

a mind, in the least given to reflection upon the rise and I fall of empires, that true reconcilement never can exist

between Great Britain and America, the latter being in subjection to the former. The Almighty created 'America to

be independent of Britain. Let us beware of the impiety of => being backward to act as instruments in the Almighty hand, E now extended to accomplish his purpose; and by the com

pletion of which alone America, in the nature of human affairs, can be secure against the craft and insidious designs

of her enemies, who think her prosperity and power already E by far too great. In a word, our piety and political safety L are so blended, that to refuse our labors in this divine work,

is to refuse to be a great, a free, a pious, and a happy people!

Soon after the prohibitory act reached America, congress made still further advances towards independence, by granting letters of marque and reprisal against the ships moment and goods of the inhabitants of Great Britain, and

opening the ports to all the world, except those of Great 3 Britain. In the same month, Silas Deane was sent as se

cret agent to the court of France, with instructions to ascer$tain the disposition of that court; " whether if the colonies

should be forced to form themselves into an independent state, France would probably acknowledge them as such," receive their ambassadors, enter into any treaty or alliance with them for commerce, or defence, or both? A few weeks later, they took a preliminary step of great importance, which plainly showed the design of a speedy declaration.

In examining the advance of congress in this matter, it ✓ must be borne in mind that they acted by the implied con

sent of the colonies, and with authority which had' no'sancstion but the acquiescence of the provincial conventions, o

legislatures, many of which existed by the same tacit suf

ferance without formal organization. The colonies were integral communities, independent of each other, and consequently, in all matters concerning their political exist. ence, and forms of government and relations with each other or foreign nations, Congress only acted by the consent of each, express or implied. Its functions were in effect only advisory, though they had been universally recognized, under the emergencies of the times, as binding upon the good faith of the several provinces. In a step of such an extraordinary kind, as the assumption of independence, it is obvious that their power extended no further than the declaration of a fact, that each of those who joined in the assertion of the independence of all, was at the time absolutely independent in itself. Congress had on several occasions been applied to for advice, in regard to the internal administration of the separate colonies. In the fall of 1775, on the subversion of the royal governments, several of the provincial conventions, following the example of Massachusetts, had asked the counsel of congress as to the form of government proper to be adopted, and had received directions recommending popular representation and elective administrations ; " during the continuance of the dispute with the parent country.” 'At that time a considerable portion of the country, and some leading members of congress, thought even this limited assumption of the functions of government, too openly hostile to British authority, and prematurely leading to revolution. With scarcely an exception during the summer and autumn of that year, the provincial assemblies and conventions, disclaimed for themselves and for their constituents, the design of separating from Great Britain. Great changes of opinion, and infinitely more zeal and boldness in the avowal of opinions previously entertained, were brought about by the course of affairs during the parliamentary session of 1776 in Great Britain, and the campaigns arrayed against America for the same year, to conquer and enslave British colonies with the aid of hired soldiery from Germany.

In May, 1776, congress, following the advance of public opinion, recommended, without opposition of any moment,

an indefinite extension of the same power in the May 10. provisionally and for an interim, had only six months before alarmed the loyalty of the colonists. They advised the people not to consider themselves any longer as holding of:

[ocr errors]

exercising any powers from Great Britain, but “to adopt such government as should in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and of America in general.”. By the preamble to this resolution, finally adopted five days afterwards, it was declared “irreconcilable with reason and good conscience" for the colonists to ma

May 15. take the paths for the support of government under the crown of Great Britain. They proclaimed the necessity of suppressing “ the exercise of every kind of authority under the crown," and all power should be 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.”

About the same time, the colonial assemblies began to move in the great question, and give official sanction to what had become the general sentiment of America. North Carolina, on the 22d of April, made the first public act of any colonial assembly in favour of the measure, by instructing her delegates in congress “ to concur with those in the other colonies in declaring independency"-a phrase which implies a general agitation of the question, and the expectation that it would shortly be brought before congress.

On the 14th of May, the general assembly of Massachusetts desired the people at the ensuing election of representatives, to give them instructions on the subject of independence ; and on the 23d, the inhabitants of Boston, whose opinions reflect those of the whole colony, instructed their representatives that their delegates in congress be advised that the inhabitants of that colony "i with their lives and the remnants of their fortunes, would most cheerfully support them in the measure” of declaring independence.

On the 15th of May, the provincial convention of Virginia unanimously instructed their delegates in congress, to propose to that body, to declare the United Colonies, “free and independent states; absolved from all allegiance or dependence upon the crown, or parliament of Great Britain.” At the same time, without waiting for the declaration, they assumed the independence of Virginia, and appointed a contmittee to draw up a bill of rights, and form a constitution.

The assembly of Rhode Island, in the same month, adopted an oath of allegiance to the colony, and instructed their


June 7.

delegates in congress to join in all measures which might be agreed on in congress, for the advancement of the interests, safety, and dignity of the colonies.

South Carolina and Georgia, with the colonies just mentioned, had taken active measures to procure a declaration of independence, before it was brought forward formally in that body. Pennsylvania and Maryland had declared against it, and the other delegates were without instructions; when,

on the 7th of June, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia,

offered a 'resolution, declaring that "the United Colonies are, and ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

This resolution, so mighty in its character, and the vast importance of all its bearings, was debated for several days with extraordinary earnestness, eloquence, and ability. Mr. Lee, and John Adams, were the most distinguished in supporting the motion, and Mr. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania in opposing it. These were among the most able and eminent men the revolution had produced, and the full strength of their faculties was brought forth on so solemn and momentous an occasion. On the 10th the resolution was adopted in a committee by a bare majority of the colonies, and the final consideration was postponed to the first of July, to give time for greater deliberation, and for instructions from the colonial legislatures. A committee was appointed to draw up the declaration, consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dr. Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

In the interim, the friends of independence were ardent and indefatigable in their labours to procure the co-operation of such colonies as had not yet taken measures to express their concurrence, and to procure the assent of the colonies that hesitated or had refused.

On the 8th, the New York delegates wrote for instructions, but the provincial assembly not feeling themselves authorized to act, referred them in reply, to the people, who were desired to give instructions, at the election of legislators.

On the 15th, the New Hampshire assembly unanimously instructed their delegates to concur, and on the same day, a similar instruction was given by the Connecticut assembly,

« AnteriorContinuar »