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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
IN the midst of the fermentation of these events, the second Colonial Congress met at Philadelphia, May, 1775. Its Members as a matter of policy were disposed to temporize with Great Britain, and voted an Address. to the King and Parliament, calling for a redress of grievances, and depicting the evils of separation. At the same time they began to organize for the bloody ordeal that seemed approaching. In the name of the "United Colonies" they set to work to raise an army, equip a navy, and to devise financial resources. The New England forces around Boston were adopted as the Colonial army, and at the suggestion of the New England Delegates, George Washington of Virginia was nominated Commander-in-Chief.
Before he left Philadelphia to take command another decisive event occurred. The British General in Boston decided to seize and fortify Bunker's Hill. To prevent this the Americans threw up a redoubt in the night of the 16th of June, 1775, and the following morning the British troops to the number of 3,000, all veterans, assaulted it. After twice repulsing them, the Americans from want of ammunition retired. The British confessed a loss of over 1,000 men killed and wounded, whilst the American loss was only 449 killed, wounded, and
prisoners. Unlike the fight at Lexington, this was a regular pitched battle, and though badly armed and supplied the Colonists displayed a spirit that augured badly for British supremacy in America. The cannon of Bunker's Hill reverberated from Boston to Georgia.
The cry to arms was loud but not unanimous, though compromise was almost despaired of. Great Britain declared the Colonies" in a state of rebellion," and prepared to reduce them to obedience.
In December, 1775, Parliament interdicted all trade with the Colonies, and ordered the capture of all American vessels and other vessels trading in any port of the Colonies.
At the close of this year the Colonists organized an expedition against Canada under General Montgomery, which was abandoned some months afterwards.
In March, 1776, the British army evacuated Boston and sailed for Halifax. This was a signal triumph for the Colonial cause.
British cruisers repeatedly attacked various points on the coast. In June, they assaulted Charleston, South Carolina, but were driven off with loss.
The war between England and her Colonies was now fully inaugurated. It had been going on for over a year. The Colonies had no alternative but abject submission or desperate resistance. Yet, strange to say, some of the more influential seemed to shrink at a final separation from the Mother-country. When in June, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced his Resolution in the Congress at Philadelphia that "the United Colonies are and ought to be free and independent States, and that their political connection with Great Britain is and ought to be dissolved," Pennsylvania and South Carolina
voted against the Resolution, Delaware was divided, and New York declined to vote. Nine Colonies, however, sustained it, and a committee was chosen to draft a Declaration of Independence. The firmness of New England, and the ardor of Virginia, finally overcame all doubts and scruples, and the Vote for Independence was passed unanimously by the Thirteen Colonies on July 4th.
It cannot be asserted that all men were unanimous in their desire to renounce the Government of the Mother-country. New England was chiefly eager for Independence: first, because her spirit was always Republican*; and next, because her commerce being the most extensive was the most damaged by the imposts of Great Britain. Many of the leading men of the other Colonies of the political, professional, and mercantile world, also secretly aimed at emancipation, as they believed their prosperity would be thereby promoted. "It was the independent and enlightened classes of society," remarks Guizot, "who had to sustain and invigorate the people in the great struggle in which their country was engaged. The magistrates, the wealthy planters, the great merchants, and the officers of the army, constantly showed themselves the firmest and most ardent adherents of the cause. They gave their example no less than their advice, and the populace instead of urging them on, hardly followed in their track."
This important statement is corroborated by the frequent complaints of Washington of the lukewarmness
* When Charles II. was restored, there was general satisfaction in all the Colonies save New England, which welcomed the regicides Goff and Whalley, and forbade any rejoicings for the return of the King.
and disaffection of the people. In fact, popular opinion was so divided as to the expediency of a Revolution, that the most conspicuous public men considered it prudent not too openly to endorse it. As late as October, 1774, Washington wrote to Captain Mackenzie:-" You are taught to believe that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious-setting up for independence and what not. Give me leave to tell you, my good friend, that you are abused, grossly abused. I think I can announce
it as a fact that it is not the wish or interest of that Government-Massachusetts-or any other on this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence, but at the same time, you may rely on it that none will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges which are essential to the happiness of every free State.”
In less than a year from the date of this letter, the writer was commanding the Colonial army before Boston. Had events so utterly outrun the forecast of Washington; or was he still, in October, 1775, a disbeliever in Independence; or did he consider it obligatory in 1774 to conceal his real convictions?
In the beginning of 1775, John Adams publicly declared in Boston :-"That there are any who pant after independence, is the greatest slander on the Provinces." He also asserted on another occasion: "That there existed a general desire for independence of the Crown in any part of America before the revolution is as far from the truth as the zenith from the nadir. For my own part there was not a moment during the revolution when I would not have given every thing I possessed for a restoration to the state of things before the contest began, provided we could have had a sufficient security for its continuance.”
Franklin wrote in March, 1775:-"I have assured Lord Chatham that having travelled more than once almost from one end of the continent to the other, and kept a great variety of company, eating, drinking, and conversing with them freely, I never had heard in any conversation with any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a separation, or a hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America."
In November, 1775, five months after the battle of Bunker's Hill, Jefferson wrote: "Believe me, dear Sir, there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves an unicn with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connexion on such terms as the British Parliament proposes, and in this I think I speak the sentiments of America. We want neither inducement nor power to declare or assert a separation. It is will alone which is wanting, and that is growing apace under the fostering hand of our King.'
These significant extracts prove that to the last it was necessary to entice the Colonies to make a Revolution, which might lead to unknown disasters. Guizot alludes to the hesitation which seized on many before taking the final plunge. "It was not for the purpose," he says, "of escaping from the fangs of some atrocious tyranny that the insurrection was begun by the Colonists. They had not, like the Pilgrim-Fathers when they fled the English shores, to recover the first blessings of civil liberty, security for their persons, or liberty for their creed." The Colonists were exasperated, it is true, by
* In February 1776, Tom Paine published in Philadelphia a pamphlet entitled "Common Sense," urging the Colonies in cogent, yet temperate language, to separate from England. He found it necessary to appeal to the reason, rather than the passion of the public.