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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

For the declaration of Independence


Many people still hesitated, from timidity, from foreseeing the sufferings which war would inevitably entail on America, from hereditary, faithful attachment to the mother-country. "Gentlemen," had but lately been observed by Mr. Dickinson, deputy from Pennsylvania, at the reading of the scheme of a solemn declaration justifying the taking up of arms, "there is but one word in this paper of which I disapprove--Congress." "And as for me, Mr. President," said Mr. Harrison, rising, "there is but one word in this paper of which I approve--Congress."

Deeds had become bolder than words. "We have hitherto made war by halves," wrote John Adams to General Gates; "you will see in to-morrow's papers that for the future we shall probably venture to make it by three- quarters. The continental navy, the provincial navies, have been authorized to cruise against English property throughout the whole extent of the ocean. Learn, for your governance, that this is not Independence. Far from it! If one of the next couriers should bring you word of unlimited freedom of commerce with all nations, take good care not to call that Independence. Nothing of the sort! Independence is a spectre of such awful mien that the mere sight of it might make a delicate person faint."

Independence was not yet declared, and already, at the end of their proclamations, instead of the time-honored formula, 'God save the king!' the Virginians had adopted the proudly significant phrase, 'God save the liberties of America!'

The great day came, however, when the Congress resolved to give its true name to the war which the colonies had been for more than a year maintaining against the mothercountry. After a discussion which lasted three days, the scheme drawn up by Jefferson, for the declaration of Independence, was adopted by a large majority. The solemn proclamation of it was determined upon on the 4th of July, and that day has remained the national festival of the United States of America. John Adams made no mistake when, in the transport of his patriotic joy, he wrote to his wife: "I am inclined to believe that this day will be celebrated by generations to come as the great anniversary of the nation. It should be kept as the day of deliverance by solemn thanksgivings to the Almighty. It should be kept with pomp, to the sound of cannon and of bells, with games, with bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, for ever. You will think me carried away by my enthusiasm; but no, I take into account, perfectly, the pains, the blood, the treasure we shall have to expend to maintain this declaration, to uphold and defend these States; but through all these shadows I perceive rays of ravishing light and joy, I feel that the end is worth all the means and far more, and that posterity will rejoice over this event with songs of triumph, even though we should have cause to repent of it, which will not be, I trust in God."

The declaration of American Independence was solemn and grave; it began with an appeal to those natural rights which the eighteenth century had everywhere learned to claim. "We hold as self-evident all these truths," said the Congress of united colonies: "All men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments are established amongst men to guarantee those rights, and their just power emanates from the consent of the governed."

To this declaration of the inalienable right of people to choose their own government for the greatest security and greatest happiness of the governed, succeeded an enumeration of the grievances which made it forever impossible for the American colonists to render obedience to the king of Great Britain; the list was long and overwhelming; it ended with this declaration: "Wherefore we, the representatives of the United States of America, met together in general Congress, calling the Supreme Judge of the universe to witness the uprightness of our intentions, do solemnly publish and declare in the name of the good people of these colonies, that the United colonies are and have a right to be free and independent States, that they are released from all allegiance to the crown of Great Britain, and that every political tie between them and Great Britain is and ought to be entirely dissolved. . . . Full of firm confidence in the protection of Divine Providence, we pledge, mutually, to the maintenance of this declaration our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred possession, our honor."


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