Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ROM no point of view can the Declaration of American Independence, the causes which led to its adoption, and the events

which marked its maintenance, be observed, without exciting sentiments of profound veneration for the men who were the prominent actors in that remarkable scene in the drama of the world's history. Properly to appreciate the true relative position in which those men stood to the then past and future, it is necessary to view the chain of causes and effects, retrospective and prospective, united in them by a brilliant link.

For a long series of years the commercial policy of Great Britain, in her dealings with the American Colonies, was narrow and selfish, and its effects influenced the whole social compact here. The colonists felt the injustice of many laws, but their want of representation in the National Legislature, and their inherent political weakness, obliged them to submit. But when the wars with

the French and Indians called forth their physical energies, and united, in a measure, the disjointed settlements, scattered in isolated communities along the Atlantic seaboard, marked by hardly a semblance of union in feeling and interest, it was then that they perceived the strength and value of unity, and talked with each other respecting their common rights and privileges.

The royal governors viewed the interchange of political sentiments between the colonies with great disfavor, for they saw therein the harbinger of their own departing strength. Their representations to the British Ministry, more than

any other single cause, contributed to the enactment of laws respecting the colonies, that finally generated that rebellious spirit in the hearts of the AngloAmericans, which would not, and did not, stop short of absolute Political Independence.

The enactment of the Stamp Act in 1765, and the kindred measures that soon followed, made it plain to the minds of the colonists that even common justice would be denied them by the Home Government, if its claims interfered with the avaricious demands of an exhausted treasury. They saw plainly that the King and Parliament were resolved to turn a deaf ear to all petitions and remonstrances that were based upon the righteous assumption that " TAXATION AND EQUITABLE REPRESENTATION ARE ONE AND INSEPARABLE." As this was a principle too vital in the very constitution of a free people, to be yielded, the colonists felt the necessity of a General Council to de. liberate

upon the solemn questions involved. In this, the great heart of colonial America seemed to beat with one

pulsation; and almost simultaneously, and without previous concert, the proposition for a General Congress was put forth in several of the colonies.

The time and place for holding a Congress were designated, and on the fifth of September, 1774, delegates from the various colonies assembled in Carpenter's Hall, in Philadelphia. Their deliberations were orderly but firm. Loyalty to the crown, notwithstanding its oppressions, was a leading theme in their debates. Not a word was whispered of dismemberment and independence, but they solemnly consulted with each other upon the best means of maintaining the integrity of the British realm, compatible with the préservation of their own inalienable rights. To this end their efforts were directed, and they humbly petitioned the King, remonstrated with Parliament, and appealed to their brethren in Great Britain for justice. But their petitions and remonstrances were in vain. New oppressions were laid upon them, and the blood of American citizens was shed by British soldiery at Lexington and Concord!

Another Congress assembled in May, 1775, organized a temporary general government, made provisions for an army, and appointed Washington commander-in-chief. And yet they talked not of independence. They armed in defence of rights bestowed by the British Constitution, and they were still willing to lay them down, and avow their loyalty, when those rights should be respected. Even with arms in their hands, and successfully opposing the force of British bayonets, they petitioned and remonstrated. But their petitions were unheeded ; their re

monstrances were insultingly answered ; and their demands for justice were met by swarms of armed mercenaries, purchased by the British Government of petty German princes, and sent hither to butcher British subjects for asserting the rights of British subjects !

Hope for reconciliation faded away at the opening of 1776, and in June of that year, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, offered a resolution in the General Congress, declaring all allegiance of the colonies to the British crown, at an end. This bold proposition was soon after followed by the appointment of a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. The draft was made by Jefferson, and after a few verbal alterations by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, it was submitted to Congress on the twenty-eighth of June. It was laid upon the table until the first of July, when it was taken up in committee of the whole, and after several amendments were made, nine States voted for Independence. The Assemblies of Maryland and Pennsylvania refused their concurrence; but conventions of the people having been called, majorities were obtained, and on the fourth of July, votes from all the Colonies were procured in its favor, and the thirteen united Colonies were declared free and independent States.

The Declaration was signed on that day, only by John Hancock, the President of Congress, and with his name alone, it was first sent forth to the world. It was ordered to be engrossed upon the Journals of Congress, and ou the second day of August following, it was signed by all

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »