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statesman of the present century may be said to touch the very core of the problem as to the historic justice of our great indictment of the last King of America; and there is deep significance in the fact that this is the very criticism upon the document, which, as John Adams tells us, he himself had in mind when it was first submitted to him in committee, and even when, shortly afterward, he advocated its adoption by Congress. After mentioning certain things in it with which he was delighted, he adds :
“There were other expressions which I would not have inserted if I had drawn it up-particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal; for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature. I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity only cruel. I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but, as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it after. wards, I thought it would not become mo to strike it out. I consented to report it.” *
A more minute and a more poignant criticism of the Declaration of Independence has been made in recent years by still another English writer of liberal tendencies, who, however, in his capacity as critic, seems here to labor under the disadvantage of having transferred to the document which he undertakes to judge much of the extreme dislike which he has for the man who wrote it, whom, indeed, he regards as a sophist, as a demagogue, as quite capable of inveracity in speech, and as bearing some resemblance to Robespierre “in his feline nature, his malignant egotism, and his intense suspiciousness, as well as in his bloody-minded, yet possibly sincere, philanthropy.”+ In the opinion of Prof. Goldwin Smith, our great national manifesto is written “in a highly rhetorical strain”; 1 “it opens with sweeping aphorisms about the natural rights of man, at which political science now smiles, and which . . might seem strange when framed for slave-holding communities by a publicist who
** The Works of John Adams," ii., 514, note. The distinction bere made by John Adams between the personal and the official character of George III. is quite pointless in its application to the Declaration of Independence; since it is of the King's official character only that the Declaration speaks. Moreover, John Adams's tostimouy in 1822 that he " never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and nature," is completely destroyed by John Adams's own testimony on that subject as recorded at an earlier period of his life. For example, in 1780, in a letter to M. Dumas, be thus speaks of George III. under the name of White Eyes": Europe, in general, is much mistaken in that character; it is a pity that he should be believed to be so amiable; the truth is far otherwise. Nerone neronior is nearer the truth." Ibid., vii., 327.
1 Gold win Smith, in The Nineteenth Century, No. 131, January, 1888, p. 109. ** The United States; An Outline of Political History," 88.
himself held slaves" ;* while, in its specifications of fact, it “ is not more scrupulously truthful than are the general utterances” of the statesman who was its scribe. Its charges that the several offensive acts of the king, besides “ evincing a design to reduce the colonists under absolute depotism," "all had as their direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny,” are simply “propositions which history cannot accept."I Moreover, the Declaration “blinks the fact that many of the acts, styled steps of usurpation, were measures of repression, which, however unwise or excessive, had been provoked by popular outrage.”8 “No government could allow its officers to be assaulted and their houses sacked, its loyal lieges to be tarred and feathered, or the property of merchants sailing under its flag to be thrown by lawless hands into the sea."| Even “the preposterous violence and the manifest insincerity of the suppressed clause " against slavery and the slave-trade " are enough to create suspicion as to the spirit in which the whole document was framed."
Finally, as has been already intimated, not even among Americans themselves has the Declaration of Independence been permitted to pass on into the enjoyment of its superb renown, without much critical disparagement at the hands of statesmen and historians. No doubt Calhoun had its preamble in mind when he declared that “nothing can be more uufounded and false” than “the prevalent opinion that all men are born free and equal ” ; for “it rests upon the assuniption of a fact which is contrary to universal observation."** Of course, all Americans who have shared to any extent in Calhoun's doctrines respecting human society could hardly fail to agree with him in regarding as fallacious and worthless those general propositions in the Declaration which seem to constitute its logical starting point, as well as its ultimate defence.
Perhaps, however, the most frequent form of disparagement to which Jefferson’s great state paper has been subjected among
* " The United States," etc., 87-88.
Ibid. **"A Disquisition on Goveroment" in "The Works of John C. Calhoun," i., 57.
us is that which would minimize his merit in composing it, by denying to it the merit of originality. For example, Richard Henry Lee sneered at it as a thing “copied from Locke's Treatise on Government.”* The author of a life of Jefferson, published in the year of Jefferson's retirement from the presidency, suggests that the credit of having composed the Declaration of Independence“ has been perhaps more generally, than truly, given by the public ” to that great man.t Charles Campbell, the historian of Virginia, intimates that some expressions in the document were taken without acknowledgment from Aphra Behn's tragi-comedy, “The Widow-Ranter, or the History of Bacon in Virginia."I John Stockton Littell describes the Declaration of Independence as "that enduring monument at once of patriotism, and of genius and skill in the art of appropriation" -asserting that “ for the sentiments and much of the language" of it, Jefferson was indebted to Chief Justice Drayton's charge to the grand jury of Charleston, delivered in April, 1776, as well as to the Declaration of Independence said to have been adopted by some citizens of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in May, 1775.8 Even the latest and most critical editor of the writings of Jefferson calls attention to the fact that a glance at the Declaration of Rights, as adopted by Virginia on the 12th of June, 1776, “would seem to indicate the source from which Jefferson derived a most important and popular part” of his famous production. | By no one, however, has the charge of a lack of originality been pressed with so much decisiveness as by John Adams, who took evident pleasure in speaking of it as a document in which were merely “ recapitulated” previous and wellknown statements of American rights and wrongs, and who, as late as in the year 1822, deliberately wrote: “There is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights, in the Journals of Congress, in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams."**
* “ The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," H. A. Washington ed., vli., Sterben Cullen Carpenter, “ de emoirs of Thomas Jefferson,” i., 11. “History of .Virginia," 317. Graydou's " Men and Times of the American Revolution," 323, note. Paul Leicester Ford, “ The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," I Introd. xxvi.
" The Works of John Adams, 'ii., 377. ** Ibid., 514, noto.
Perhaps nowhere in our literature would it be possible to find a criticism brought forward by a really able man against any piece of writing less applicable to the case, and of less force and value, than is this particular criticism by John Adams and others, as to the lack of originality in the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, for such a paper as Jefferson was commissioned to write, the one quality which it could not properly have had, the one quality which would have been fatal to its acceptance either by the American Congress or by the American people-is originality. They were then at the culmination of a tremendous controversy over alleged grievances of the most serious kind—a controversy that had been steadily raging for at least twelve years. In the course of that long dispute, every phase of it, whether as to abstract right or constitutional privilege or personal procedure, had been presented in almost every conceivable form of speech. At last, they had resolved, in view of all this experience, no longer to prosecute the controversy as members of the empire; they had resolved to revolt, and, casting off forever their ancient fealty to the British crown, to separate from the empire, and to establish themselves as a new nation among the nations of the earth. In this emergency, as it happened, Jefferson was called upon to put into form a suitable statement of the chief considerations which prompted them to this great act of revolution, and which, as they believed, justified it. What, then, was Jefferson to do? Was he to regard himself as a mere literary essayist, set to produce before the world a sort of prize-dissertation—a calm, analytic, judicial treatise on history and politics with a particular application to Anglo-American affairs-one essential merit of which would be its originality as a contribution to historical and political literature ? Was he not, rather, to regard himself as, for the time being, the very mouthpiece and prophet of the people whom he represented, and as such required to bring together and to set in order, in their name, not what was new, but what was old ; to gather up into his own soul, as much as possible, whatever was then also in their souls, their very thoughts and passions, their ideas of constitutional law, their interpretations of fact, their opinions as to men and as to events in all that ugly quarrel, their notions of justice, of civic dignity, of human rights ; finally, their
memories of wrongs which seemed to them intolerable, especially of wrongs inficted upon them during those twelve years by the hands of insolent and brutal men, in the name of the King, and by his apparent command ?
Moreover, as the nature of the task laid upon him made it necessary that he should thus state, as the reasons for their intended act, those very considerations both as to fact and as to opinion which had actually operated upon their minds, so did it require him to do so, to some extent, in the very language which the people themselves, in their more formal and deliberate utterances, had all along been using. In the development of political life in England and America, there had already been created a vast literature of constitutional progress-a literature common to both portions of the English race, pervaded by its own stately traditions, and reverberating certain great phrases which formed, as one may say, almost the vernacular of English justice, and of English aspiration for a free, manly and orderly political life. In this vernacular the Declaration of Independence was written. The phraseology thus characteristic of it is the very phraseology of the champions of constitutional expansion, of civic dignity and progress, within the English race ever since Magna Charta ; of the great state papers of English freedom in the seventeenth century, particularly the Petition of Right in 1629, and the Bill of Rights in 1789; of the great English Charters for colonization in America; of the great English exponents of legal and political progress-Sir Edward Coke, John Milton, Sir Philip Sidney, John Locke; finally, of the great American exponents of political liberty, and of the chief representative bodies, whether local or general, which had convened in America from the time of Stamp Act Congress until that of the Congress which resolved upon our independence. To say, therefore, that the official declaration of that resolve is a paper made up of the very opinions, beliefs, unbeliefs, the very sentiments, prejudices, passions, even the errors in judgment and the personal misconstructions—if they were such—which then actually impelled the American people to that mighty act, and that all these are expressed in the very phrases which they had been accustomed to use, is to pay to that statepaper the highest tribute as to its fitness for the purpose for which it was framed.
Of much of this, also, Jefferson himself seems to have been