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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 6166

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Tendency towards independence.]

Under the direction of Congress and the command of General Washington the siege of Boston was successfully pushed forward during the winter of 1775- 76. From the beginning of the struggle to this time two political currents had been running side by side,-the one towards a union of the colonies, the other towards independence. Of these the current of union had run a little faster. Notwithstanding the authority which they had set over themselves, the colonies still professed to be loyal members of the British empire. To be sure, there is a strong smack of insincerity in the protestations poured forth by the assemblies and the second Continental Congress. But John Adams says: "That there existed a general desire of independence of the Crown in any part of America before the Revolution, is as far from the truth as the zenith is from the nadir." Yet Patrick Henry declared as early as September, 1774. that "Government is dissolved. Fleets and armies and the present state of things show that government is dissolved. We are in a state of nature, sir…. All America is thrown into one mass."

[Sidenote: Hesitation.]

[Sidenote: Suggestion of independence.]

From the moment that the Second Continental Congress had ordered the colonies to be put in a state of defence, either independence must come, or thee colonies must submit. No far-seeing man could expect that England would make the concessions which the colonies declared indispensable. Yet for more than a year Congress hesitated to declare publicly that the Americans would not return to obedience. As forgiving and loyal subjects of a king misled by wicked advisers, they still seemed supported by precedent and acting on the rights of Englishmen. Suggestions were made throughout 1775 looking towards independence Thus the New Hampshire Revolutionary Convention declared that "the voice of God and of nature demand of the colonies to look to their own political affairs." In May, 1775, came the resolutions of a committee of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. In declaring that the government of the colonies had ceased to exist, they were probably not different in spirit from many other resolutions passed by like bodies. On July 8, 1775, Congress sent its last formal petition to the Crown. In it "Your Majesty's faithful subjects" set forth "the impossibility of reconciling the usual appearance of respect with a just Attention to our own preservation against those artful and cruel Enemies who abuse your royal Confidence and Authority for the Purpose of effecting our destruction." Congress was determined to wait until the petition had been received. On the day when it was to have been handed to the king, appeared a royal proclamation announcing that open and armed rebellion was going on in America.

[Sidenote: Congress determined.]

The news of the fate of the petition reached Philadelphia on October 31. The hesitation of Congress was at an end. Three days later it resolved to recommend the people of New Hampshire to establish their own gove

rnment. The next day similar advice was given to South Carolina, with the promise of continental troops to defend the colony. Here for the first time was an official recognition of the fact that the colonies stood no longer under English control. It was an assertion that independence existed, and the steps towards a formal declaration were rapid.

[Sidenote: Independence decided on.]

[Sidenote: Declaration of Independence.]

[Sidenote: Rights of man.]

In this as in other similar crises Congress waited to find out the wish of the colonial legislatures. By May 15, 1776, the opinion of so many colonies had been received in favor of a declaration of independence that Congress voted, "That it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the Crown of Great Britain should be totally suppressed." Congress was now committed; and during the next few weeks the form of the declaration was the important question for discussion. Throughout the country, resolutions in favor of independence were passed by legislatures, conventions, and public meetings. On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted a solemn Declaration of Independence. Like the statement of grievances of 1765 and the declaration of 1774, this great state paper, drawn by the nervous pen of Thomas Jefferson, set forth the causes of ill-feeling toward Great Britain. First comes a statement of certain self-evident truths, a reiteration of those rights of man upon which Otis had dwelt in his speech of 1761. Then follows an enumeration of grievances put forward in this crisis as their justification in the face of the world; yet of the twenty-nine specifications of oppressive acts, not more than five were manifestly illegal according to the prevailing system of English law. So far as the Declaration of Independence shows, liberality and concession on the part of England might even then have caused the Revolution to halt.

[Sidenote: Assertion of independence.]

Another part of the Declaration is a statement that "These United Colonies are free and independent states, dissolved from all allegiance to Great Britain, and have the powers of sovereign states." In form and spirit this clause does not create independent states, but declares that they are already independent. Independence in no wise changed the status or character of the Continental Congress: it continued to direct military operations and foreign negotiations, to deal with the Indians, and to regulate national finances. The immediate effect of the Declaration of Independence was that it obliged every American to take sides for or against the Revolution. No one could any longer entertain the delusion that he could remain loyal to Great Britain while making war upon her. It was, therefore, a great encouragement to the patriots, who speedily succeeded, in most colonies, in driving out or silencing the loyalists. There is a tradition that another member of Congress said to Franklin at this time, "We must all hang together." "Yes," replied Franklin, "we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately."

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