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Continental Gress

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The first Congress, of 1774, assumed neither executive nor legislative authority. The sec ond, early in its existence (6 July 1775), for mally disclaimed any purpose of separation. The first half-unconscious step was the appoint ment, November 1775, of five commissioners to maintain communications with friends of the colonies in ((Great Britain, Ireland, or else where': only independent countries send min isters. Thomas Paine's urg ing independence as inevitable, and the sooner the better, appeared 9 Jan. 1776; it had wide in fluence and unlocked many tongues. So gen eral was the concurrence with Paine's views that, in fear of them, three of the middle colo nies—New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Mary land—instructed their delegates to vote against any such measure; the other two. New York and Delaware, were bitterly divided and their delegates took no part in forwarding the inde cent movement; South Carolina was also hostile, contrary to its usual habit of eager initiative —probably from fear of England stirring up the great Indian confederations against the South, as was afterward done. But events pushed them on. British naval captures led Congress, 23 March, to declare all British vessels lawful prize; and on 6 April it opened all United States ports to all vessels other than British. This was an act of absolute sover eignty, acknowledged or not. The colonies, under instructions from Congress, were steadily forming State governments (see CONSTITUTIONS, STATE) ; and Congress 10 and 15 May recom mended all the remaining ones to take the same step, which of course involved making their common Union independent also. John Adams was the foremost agent in all this work. The North Carolina convention 22 April re solved to *concur with those in the other colonies in declaring independence.* On 17 May Virginia instructed her delegates in Con gress to move a *Declaration of Independence; and on 7 June Richard Henry Lee made a motion to that effect in Congress, which was seconded by John Adams. On the 8th and 10th this was debated in Committee of the Whole; but action•was postponed to 1 July, as some delegations were averse and others were wait ing instructions.

On the 10th a committee of five was ap to draw up the Declaration: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massa chusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert R. Livingston of New York. Its composition was assigned to Jefferson by the committee; the latter and Congress made many changes, but mostly by omission rather than alteration of wording, so that the language is practically all Jefferson's. The chief cancellations were five; (1) and (2) The last two counts of his indict ment of the king. (1) That he had 'tincited treasonable insurrections of our fellow-citizens* by promising them confiscated property. The charge was probably felt to be too weak to maintain, as well as likely to weaken the gen eral case. (2) That he had carried on the slave-trade, and refused to allow American leg islatures to suppress it. South Carolina and Georgia, which were actively carrying it on themselves, would not permit this; and too much Northern wealth had been earned by it not to make the North very willing to suppress the passage, which would impress foreign na tions unpleasantly as to their sincerity. (3) Superfluous •rhetoric about the incredulity of *future ages° as to the daring tyranny of the king. (4) Review of American history, denying that Great Britain had assisted in our estab lishment, and alleging that *submission to their parliament was no part of our constitution.* It was thought best to go as little into the remote origins as possible, fixing the attention upon recent oppressions and natural rights; and above all, to ignore the existence of Parliament altogether. That body is not alluded to, except inferentially as the *others* with whom the king has *combined° to subject the colonies to an alien and illegal jurisdiction. This was in pursuance of the steady contention of the col onies. (5) Attacks on the English people for re-electing °the disturbers of our harmony,* and allowing their chief magistrate to perpe trate these enormities. This was struck out to avoid giving offense to the friends of the colo nies in England, who in fact, by upholding Lib eral leaders and even generals, saved us at last.

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