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universal, sentiment was still in favor of reconciliation. During the course of my life," said John Jay in later years, "and until after the second petition of Congress in 1775, I never heard an American of any class or of any description express a wish for the independence of the colonies." But when that petition of Congress to the king was rejected, when the English government, in consequence, pledged itself to continue its system of oppression, then the resolution of the colonies rose, all the more determined for having been delayed.
Nearly a year had elapsed since the North Carolinians of Mecklenburg county made their declaraand Vir- tion, when the North Carolinians of the entire colony united in authorizing their delegates in Congress to concur with those of the other colonies in declaring independence, (April 23, 1776.) A few weeks afterwards, (May 15,) the Virginians instructed their delegates to propose a declaration of independence to Congress.
Congress had already committed itself. Its recCongress. ommendations of the year previous to some of the colonies, that they should set up governments for themselves, had just been extended to all. It had also voted "that the exercise of every kind of authority under the crown should be totally suppressed," (May 15.) What else was this than to pronounce the colonies independent states? Subsequent resolutions and declarations were but the carrying out of the decision already made.
But as it had not been made, so it was not carried out without hesitation. More than one earnest mind, bent upon independence in the end, considered the course of things thitherward to be much too hurried. "My countrymen," wrote Washington, (April 1,) "from their form of government, and their steady attachment heretofore to royalty, will come reluctantly into the idea of inde
pendence; but time and persecution bring many wonderful things to pass." He was right; the spirits and numbers. of those resolved upon immediate independence increased apace
The instructions of Virginia were soon obeyed. olution. Upon the journals of Congress, under date of June 7, there occurs an affecting entry of "certain resolutions respecting independency being moved and seconded." No names are mentioned, no words of the resolutions are recorded. It is as if Congress had felt its own feebleness in comparison with the solemnity of the cause, and so de ply, as to hold its breath and give no sign of what was passing. The mover was Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, the seconder John Adams, of Massachusetts; and the resolution was, "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."
Opposition was immediate and resolute. At its head stood John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, whose ten years' championship of colonial rights was assurance of his present faithfulness. The ground common to him and to the other opponents of the resolution was simply the prematureness of the measure. Nor does it seem that they were altogether mistaken. Whatever was urged by the advocates of the resolution, there were but seven colonies, the barest possible majority, to unite in favor of a proceeding so decisive, (June 10.) Instead of pressing their views, the party in favor of the resolution were wise enough to postpone its final disposition for several weeks. On the other side, the opposing party, so far from exciting the country against the resolution, appear to have decided that it should have a fair consideration, and that if the colonies
rejecting it could be brought to favor it, they would be satisfied by the delay that had been interposed for deliberation
tee on declara
At the same time, a committee was appointed to prepare a declaration according to the tenor of the resolution. Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston, of New York, constituting the committee, united upon a draught by Jefferson. "Whether I had gathered my ideas," he said at a later time, "from reading or reflection, I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which had never been expressed before." Truth to be told, there was neither originality nor novelty in the production. Its facts, so far as they related to the course of Britain or of the British king, were peculiar to the cause at issue. But the principles of human and of colonial rights were substantially such as Englishman after Englishman, as well as American after American, had asserted. The merit of the document was its appropriateness, its harmony with the ideas of a people who had risen to defend their birthright, rather than to win any thing not already theirs. The committee reported the declaration to Congress, (June 28.)
Its adoption depended upon the adoption of the resolution of which it was but the expression. The adopted. resolution was therefore called up, (July 1.) A day's debate ensued; nor was the decision unanimous. Four delegations hung back; one, New York, because it had received no instructions to vote upon so grave a question; the other three, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina, on account of their own reluctance. The South
Carolinians asked the postponement of a definitive vote until the next morning. When the morning came, they withdrew their opposition. The Pennsylvanian and Delasome members retiring and others com
ing in gave their voices likewise to the resolution. It thus received the unanimous vote of all the colonies, New York excepted, and she only for a few days, until her delegates could be instructed to concur with their colleagues, (July 9-15.) It was the 2d of July, 1776, the true date of American independence.*
The declaration followed as a matter of course. declara- It was delayed only to receive a few amendments, tion. when it was adopted by the same vote as the resolution, (July 4.)
Thus were the colonies of Great Britain transformed into the United States of America.
free and independent states," were the words of the declaration, "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." No longer the subjects of Great Britain, but an equally independent nation, the United States were no longer open to imputations upon their course from abroad, or to doubts of it amongst themselves. When Admiral Lord Howe, and his brother, the general, commander-inchief of the British army, offered amnesty in the king's name to all Americans who would return to their allegiance, the offer was regarded as a national insult by Congress. What had Great Britain to forgive, or who had asked for forgiveness?
The day after a committee had been appointed to draw
* As the utmost discrepancy exists amongst the later histories as to these votes and dates, it seems advisable to state that Jefferson and Adams are the authorities followed in the text.
Plan of confed
up the declaration, another, and a larger one, received the charge of preparing a plan of confedera eration. tion, (June 12.) This was reported a week after the adoption of the declaration, but no action was taken upon it, (July 12.) Circumstances postponed any decision ; nor were the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, as they were styled, actually adopted by Congress until more than a year later, (November 15–17, 1777,) when they were recommended to the states for adoption. A long time elapsed before all the states complied.
Meanwhile Congress continued to be the uniting in Con- as well as the governing authority. Its members, renewed from time to time by their respective constituencies, met together as the representatives, not merely of the different states, but of the common nation. It was imperfectly, as we shall perceive, that Congress served the purpose of a central power. Its treaties, its laws, its finances, its armaments, all depended upon the consent and the cooperation of the states. But it continued to be the body in which the states were blended together, however variously, in one.
The states were every where forming governconstitu- ments of their own. Massachusetts took the lead, tions. as was observed, in the early summer of 1775. Six or seven months afterwards, New Hampshire organized her assembly and council, with a president of the latter body, (1776.) The same year brought about the establishment of state authorities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina. Of the other states, Rhode Island and Connecticut were naturally content with the liberal governments which already existed under their ancient charters. New York and Georgia set up their governments a year subsequently, (1777.) But the original forms underwent numerous and