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of March, direct him to inform the Count de Vergennes, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, “that if we
should, as there is a great appearance we shall, come to "a total separation from Great Britain, France would be “ looked upon as the Power, whose friendship it would be “ fittest for us to obtain and cultivate.”
Besides the other causes of alienation from England at this juncture, there was one less obvious, but probably not less real. It had been a saying of the Marquis de Montcalm, that our conquests along the St. Lawrence would hereafter lead to the severance of our own American Colonies from the parent State, and that France would thus obtain a compensation for her loss. * While Canada was still in the hands of a powerful enemy, New England was compelled to lean on Old England for support. The removal of the external pressure tended to loosen this connecting tie. Such change of feeling may have wrought unconsciously with many, nay, with most, of those whom it affected, but as it had not escaped the foresight of a statesman, so did it not fail to leaven and imbue the great body of the people.
Under the influence of the various motives and causes which I have endeavoured to explain, but above all, no doubt from the feeling of petitions slighted, and wrongs unredressed, the Congress now took up the question of Independence in good earnest. Early in June, a distinct proposal to that effect was moved by Mr. Richard Henry Lee, and seconded by Mr. John Adams; the latter the most conspicuous among its defenders in debate. On the other side the principal speaker was Mr. Dickinson. He observed that since the Member for Massachusetts had thought fit to commence by invoking a Heathen God, the God of Eloquence, he, for his own part, should more solemnly implore the true God, the ruler of the Universe, that if the proposed measure was for the benefit of
* On the prediction of the Marquis de Montcalm, and on this whole branch of the subject, I would refer the reader to that most able Speech on Colonial Government delivered by Lord John Russell in the House of Commons, February 8. 1850. — It is only through this speech that the words of Montcalm are known to me ; I have since heard from America that their authenticity is often called in question. (1853.)
America nothing which he should say against it might make the least impression. He then urged that a Declaration of Independence, at such a juncture, might divide the people of America, and firmly unite against them the people of England. Yet even Mr. Dickinson went no further than to counsel that some assurance should be obtained of aid from a foreign Power before they renounced their connection with Great Britain, and that the Declaration of Independence should be the condition to be offered for such aid.* So far, under a sense of ill-usage, had the old spirit of loyalty declined !
Without expressly adopting the Resolution thus before them, the Congress appointed a Committee to prepare a Declaration in the form desired. This Committee was to consist of five members, including John Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. Jefferson, though the youngest of all, was deputed to hold the pen. In his own Memoirs may be seen the draft, as he had first framed it, with some slight amendments by Franklin and Adams, and as it was then reported to the House. Several alterations of importance were subsequently made by the Congress at large. They deemed it wiser to omit the passages which conveyed a censure on the British people, and to aim their complaints and charges as directly as possible against the King. Thus, as they imagined, they should in great measure keep clear of offence to their friends in England. On other grounds of policy they also determined to strike out a clause inserted by Jefferson, reprobating in strong terms the African slave-trade. That clause it was found would displease the Southern Colonies, which had never sought to prohibit the importation of slaves, but, on the contrary, desired to continue it. “ Northern brethren,” adds Jefferson, “ also, I believe, “ felt a little tender under these censures, for though “their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they “ had been considerable carriers of them to others.” †
It is remarkable that Jefferson, in his first draft, had not scrupled to ail himself of the low and most un
* A sketch of Mr. Dickinson's speech will be found in Dr. Ramsay's History (vol. i. p. 339.).
† Memoirs and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 16. ed. 1829.
worthy prejudice which then prevailed against the nation north of Tweed. We find him therein complain of the King and people at home because they have permitted themselves “to send over not only soldiers of our common “ blood, but Scotch and foreign mercenaries.” But this passage also was struck out by his colleagues.
Such numerous mutilations of the Draft were by no means welcome to those who had framed it Franklin, who was sitting next to Jefferson, turned round to him, and said, “I have made it a rule, whenever in my power, “ to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be re“ viewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an “ incident which I will relate to you. When I was a “journeyman printer, one of my companions, an ap“prentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have
handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. “ He composed it in these words:-JOHN THOMPSON,
HATTER, MAKES AND SELLS HATS FOR READY MONEY; “ with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he 6 would submit it to his friends for their amendments. “ The first he showed it to thought the word HATTER
tautologous, because followed by the words MAKES Hals, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck
The next observed, that the word MAKES might as well be omitted, because his customers would not
care who made the hats; if good to their mind, they “ would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A “ third said he thought the words, FOR READY MONEY,
were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to “sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to
pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now “ stood : ‘John Thompson sells Hats. Sells hats, says “ his next friend, why nobody will expect you to give " them away. What, then, is the use of that word ? It
was stricken out, and Hats followed, the rather as there
was one painted on the board. So his inscription was “ reduced ultimately to JOHN THOMPSON, with the figure “ of a hat subjoined.”
It is the part of an historian (so at least it seems to me,
* Life of Franklin, by Sparks, p. 407.
and on that principle are the foregoing chapters framed) to neglect no tale or incident, however trifling it may appear, that can best illustrate the feelings which produced, or the circumstances which attended, any great crisis in human affairs. But the changes in the Draft of the Declaration, though galling to the pride of its authors, were in truth mere matters of detail. On its general principle — on the main point, that is to say, of Independence—a division was taken at the beginning of July. Nine Colonies declared in its favour. Four others namely, South Carolina and Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware—either voted against it or would not vote at all. But within a few days, or even hours, means were found to elude or to overcome that obstacle. The delegates of South Carolina were induced to declare that, although they continued to think the measure hurtful, they would vote for it for the sake of unanimity. In the Pennsylvanian delegation a minority assumed unto themselves the part of a majority, and undertook to give their signatures as such. By such means a seeming concordan unanimity on paper- -was attained.* The Declaration of Independence, appearing as the act of the whole people, was finally adopted and signed by every member present at the time, except only Mr. Dickinson. This was on the 4th of July—a day which has ever since been celebrated as a festival by the Americans -- as the birthday, for thus they deemed it, of their freedom. And among all the coincidences of date which History records, there is none perhaps so striking as that John Adams and Jefferson, the two main movers of this Declaration, should both — after filling with signal reputation the highest office in their native land- expire on the fiftieth
* These transactions, which for a long time remained secret, are explained by Mr. Jefferson, partly in his Memoirs, and partly in his appended Letter to Mr. Wells, dated May 12. 1819. He states that as to Pennsylvania, “ The Convention, learning that the Declaration “ had been signed by a minority only of their delegates, named
a new delegation on the 20th (of July).” None of the New York delegates were present on the 4th, and the signatures from that State were delayed for several days in order to obtain fresh powers from their provincial Convention. One Member (Mr. Thornton, of New Hampshire) was permitted to add his signature so late as the 4th of November,
anniversary of the day on which this their own handiwork, this the foundation of their own greatness, was first sent forth.
This memorable Declaration, on which the fate of so many millions of people, present and future, has depended for weal or for woe, commences by briefly stating, that men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, — and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. The document then proceeds at great length, and with much bitterness of language, to enumerate what it terms the “repeated “ injuries and usurpations” proceeding from “the pre
sent King of Great Britain.” As already explained, the Congress had purposely, so far as possible, avoided any acrimonious allusions, either to the Parliament or to the people of that country.
“ We hold them,” says the Declaration, as we hold the rest of mankind, -enemies “ in war, in peace friends.” The last paragraph, or summing up of this document, sets forth with these words:“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 the 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.” From that day, — exclaim the native chroniclers of these States, with a not unbecoming pride, from that day the word COLONIES is not known in their history!*
At this period, the culminating point in the whole American War, I may be forgiven for desiring to interrupt its narrative in order to review its course and its results.
- That injuries and oppressive acts of power had been inflicted by England upon America, I have in many places shown, and do most fully acknowledge. That from the other side, and above all from Massachusetts, there had been strong provocation, I must continue to maintain. I should not deem it consistent with candour to deny that
* Sparks's Life of Washington, p. 182.