Sunday, May 17, 2009

The May 15, 1776 Declaration of Independence

I missed a couple of related historical anniversaries recently.

On Friday May 10, 1776, the Continental Congress agreed to a resolution recommending that the colonies form new governments:
Resolved, That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.

The Congress also appointed "a committee of three . . . to prepare a preamble to the foregoing resolution." John Adams, Edward Rutledge and Richard Henry Lee were selected as the members.

On Wednesday May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress ordered the publication of the resolution passed on May 10, together with the following preamble:
Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; And whereas, no answer, whatever, to the humble petitions of the colonies for redress of grievances and reconciliation with Great Britain, has been or is likely to be given; but, the whole force of that kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; And whereas, it appears absolutely irreconcileable to reason and good Conscience, for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain, and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of the government 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; therefore, resolved, etc.

Poor John Adams believed, and would always believe, that the resolution, which he had presented with Richard Henry Lee on May 10, together with the May 15 preamble, which he had authored, constituted the document that marked the independence of the colonies. It was for this reason that he was happy to delegate to his young associate, Thomas Jefferson, the task of preparing a draft of the document that became known as the Declaration of Independence.

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