THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE


Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia, now known as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention met in 1787; Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, asserting the natural dignity of the human person, that God has given man certain inalienable rights, among them Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The idea of human dignity, that we are created in the image of God, forms the theological basis for human equality and liberty. The Declaration of Independence serves as the perfect philosophical expression of our Biblical heritage and establishes the core principles of our Nation, the United States of America.

The American colonists wanted freedom to live their own lives, freedom to practice their own faith, freedom from intrusions and unfair taxation by the British. After England won the Seven Years War over France, France ceded Canada to the British in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. England then demanded tighter control over the British colonies. The Proclamation Act of 1763 restricted Americans from moving westward. To raise money to pay for the war, the British implemented a series of taxes upon the American people, such as the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767. The Quartering Act of 1765, which ordered colonial towns to provide barracks for British troops, further inflamed the Americans.

A spirit of independence arose in the American colonies. Samuel Adams formed the Sons of Liberty in 1765, a secret organization that began in Boston to oppose the Stamp Act, but one that rapidly spread to all the colonies. English Parliament claimed they had the right to tax the colonies without input from the American people. Taxation without Representation became a rallying cry throughout the colonies. England sent four regiments of British redcoats to Boston on October 1, 1768. In a disagreement on March 5, 1770, redcoats opened fire and killed five unarmed colonials, which became known as the Boston Massacre. This tragedy and the unfairness of the Tea Act of 1773, which required tax on British Tea when there was no tax on Dutch tea, led to rebellion.

Trusting that God would free them from the tyranny of the British, Americans rallied in Faneuil Hall on December 13, 1773, three days before the Boston Tea Party, and during the War of American Independence. To quote the Lexington Minutemen: "We trust in God that, should the state of our affairs require it, we shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea, and life itself, in support of the common cause." In the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, Americans dumped 342 chests of English tea into Boston harbor.

This led the British government to pass what was called by Americans the Intolerable Acts of 1774. These punitive measures further galvanized the colonies to assemble at the First Continental Congress and form the Continental Association, which met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from September 5 to October 26, 1774. On September 17, the Congress first endorsed the Suffolk Resolves, which declared the Intolerable Acts unconstitutional and called for a volunteer militia. Twelve states (all but Georgia) signed the Articles of Association on October 20, 1774. The Association called for a boycott of all English goods, beginning December 1, 1774. On March 23, 1775, before the Virginia House of Burgesses at St. John's Church in Richmond, Patrick Henry set the mood for the American colonies when he asserted "Give me Liberty or give me Death!"

On the night of April 18, 1775, on a signal from two lanterns in the bell tower of Boston Old North Church, Paul Revere and his messengers rode out to Lexington and Concord, within 20 miles of Boston, to warn the Minutemen that "the British are coming." At dawn on April 19, 1775, British redcoats opened fire and killed eight colonists in Lexington; by the time the British Army reached Concord, the Americans had mobilized and defeated the Redcoats. The War of American Independence had begun.

Less than a month later, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, with John Hancock serving as President. They authorized the formation of the Continental Army, and named George Washington the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on June 16, 1775. The Congress also called for a Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer on July 20, 1775. A Second Day was called on May 17, 1776, that the Nation: “through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance … And it is recommended to Christians, of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and to abstain from servile labour and recreations on said day.”

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia made a motion for independence of the United Colonies. A motion to defer voting was made, and on June 11, Congress appointed a committee of five to prepare a Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the first draft. On July 1, 1776, the Second Continental Congress reconvened, and John Adams of Massachusetts delivered a stirring speech for independence. The following day all thirteen colonies voted for independence. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by 56 representatives of the Thirteen States. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, as the Liberty Bell rang out from Independence Hall.

The Declaration of Independence records the first time that our country was referred to as the United States of America.



The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.

He has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of the Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and the Convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.

He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.

He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
  For quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us;
  For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
  For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:
  For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
  For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:
  For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:
  For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rules into these Colonies:
  For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
  For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, 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. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

July 4, 1776



The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men who risked their fortunes, reputations, and their very lives for the independence of our Nation. They were Thomas Jefferson, Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Nelson Jr, and George Wythe of Virginia; Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase, William Paca, and Thomas Stone of Maryland; John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, and Robert T. Paine of Massachusetts; Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, Robert Morris, John Morton, George Ross, Benjamin Rush, James Smith, George Taylor, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania; Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, William Williams, and Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut; Thomas McKean, George Read, and Caesar Rodney of Delaware; Burton Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton of Georgia; Josiah Bartlett, Matthew Thornton, and William Whipple of New Hampshire; Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, and John Witherspoon of New Jersey; William Floyd, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, and Lewis Morris of New York; Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, and John Penn of North Carolina; William Ellery and Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island; and Thomas Heyward Jr, Thomas Lynch Jr, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina.




Emanuel G Leutze - George Washington crossing the Delaware River, 1851, Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

THE WAR OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE

The first effort for George Washington and the Continental Army was to contain the British troops who held Boston. In a surprise maneuver during the night of March 5, 1776, the Americans mounted cannons atop Dorchester Heights, which overlooked Boston and left the British redcoats vulnerable. The British had no choice but to evacuate. When he learned that the British were organizing a massive fleet outside of New York during the summer of 1776, George Washington moved his troops to New York.

The battle for New York began on August 27, 1776. The superior force and military training of the British Army under General William Howe won battle after battle in New York, as the Continental Army, which was outgunned, outnumbered, with little to no training or supplies, lost battle after battle in Brooklyn, Kips Bay, White Plains, and Fort Washington in the Fall of 1776. The Americans had no choice but to retreat into New Jersey. Despondent over defeat, desertions, and disease, the Americans left Trenton, New Jersey, to cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. But George Washington persevered, and, with his two loyal Generals Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, again crossed the Delaware back into New Jersey on Christmas night, 1776, and was victorious in the Battle of Trenton on December 26. Surprise led to another quick victory at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. These two battles raised the morale and spirits of our new Nation.

While the superior forces of the British could have provided a death blow to the American cause, the British generals lacked coordination. While General Howe took Philadelphia on September 26, 1777, General Burgoyne's march on northern New York ended in disaster as the American General Horatio Gates defeated the British at the two Battles of Saratoga on September 19 and October 7, leading to the surrender of Burgoyne's army on October 17, 1777. The Continental Congress passed the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777.

The victory at Saratoga enabled Benjamin Franklin, the delegate of the Continental Congress, to secure recognition of American independence and support from France in the Alliance of February 1778. With the defeat of Burgoyne's army and General Howe essentially under siege at Philadelphia, the British decided upon a Southern strategy.

The British initially enjoyed success in their Southern Campaign. The British Colonel Archibald Campbell landed in Savannah on December 29, 1778, and quickly captured the Georgia capital. The Redcoats successfully defended the city against a combination of American and French forces on October 9, 1779. However, they were unable to penetrate inland; the British hope that Loyalists would flock to their side never materialized. Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot transported Sir Henry Clinton to South Carolina and the Royal forces landed 30 miles south of Charleston at Edisto inlet on February 11, 1780. Charleston surrendered to the British on May 12, 1780. Clinton then turned over command of the Southern forces to General Charles Cornwallis. Congress appointed Horatio Gates to improve the situation in the South, but he suffered a disastrous defeat to Cornwallis at Camden, South Carolina on August 17, 1780.

However, the Americans proved victorious at the Battle of King's Mountain, South Carolina on October 7, 1780. George Washington then appointed Nathanael Greene General of the Southern Army. His strategy of hit-and-run raids throughout South Carolina, with the aid of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, and General Daniel Morgan frustrated Cornwallis and the British. Morgan achieved a major victory at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17, 1781. Angered over defeat, the aggressive Cornwallis, who destroyed many of his supplies to move quickly, charged after Greene and Morgan, who wisely retreated through North Carolina across the Dan River into Virginia. The Articles of Confederation were finally ratified on March 1, 1781. Cornwallis won an empty victory at Guilford Court House, North Carolina on March 15, 1781, but suffered such heavy losses that he had to retreat towards the coast.

The British then decided to attack Virginia and gain control of the Chesapeake. Cornwallis first headed to Richmond and gathered troops and supplies and then moved 7500 troops to Yorktown, and began building fortifications there. George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, who were planning an attack on Clinton in New York, changed course and directed the incoming French fleet of Admiral deGrasse to the Chesapeake. They then took a 400-mile march to join the Marquis de Lafayette at Jamestown, Virginia, and arrived there September 15. With the French fleet guarding the Chesapeake, and Washington and Lafayette in Jamestown, Cornwallis was surrounded and trapped in Yorktown. Fighting began on October 9, but the outcome was inevitable. It was the surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 that effectively ended the War of American Independence. The formal Peace Treaty between the United States of America and Great Britain was signed at the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783.



REFERENCES

1 Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1776.
2 Berkin C, Miller CL, Cherny RW, Gormly JL. Making America. Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2006.
3 Morison, Samuel Eliot. Oxford History of the American People. Oxford University Press, New York, 189-223, 1965.
4 Spalding M. We Still Hold These Truths. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Wilmington, Delaware, 2009.
5 Gragg R. The Declaration of Independence. Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 2005.
6 McCullough, D. 1776 - The Illustrated Edition. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2007.
7 Commager HS, Morris RB. The Spirit of Seventy-Six: The American Revolution as Told by its Participants. 1958; Reprint: Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2002.
8 Higginbotham D. The War of American Independence. MacMillan, New York, 1971.
9 Martin JK, Lender ME. A Respectable Army: The Military Origins of the Republic (1765-1783). Second Edition, Harlan Davidson, Wheeling, Illinois, 2006.
10 Morrill DL. Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Nautical & Aviation Publishing, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, 1993.




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