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13 January, 2012
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
The Declaration of Independence
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|[As a fitting epilogue to the history of Colonial America, and prologue to that
of Independent America, we append the highly-important document whose
consideration and passage by the Continental Congress are described in a
preceding article. The committee appointed to draw up this paper consisted of
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Philip
Livingston, but its preparation, as there stated, was left by the committee to
Jefferson, from his supposed peculiar fitness for the work. Several unimportant,
and one or two important, changes were made in the original draft as presented
by him, but as it stands it is very nearly word for word his own, and must be
ranked for ages to come among the great political documents of the world, the
Magna Charta of American liberty, or perhaps we should say of human liberty,--
since in the republic of the United States the freedom of mankind was first
solidly based and permanently assured.]
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 power 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 shown 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. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the
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, 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 annihilation, have
returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the
mean time exposed to all the danger of invasion from without, and convulsions
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose
obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others
to encourage their migration 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
harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of
He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the
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
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 neighboring 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 rule into these colonies:
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering
fundamentally the forms of our government:
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
complete 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 endeavored 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 attention to our British brethren. We have warned
them from time to time of attempts made 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.
JOHN HANCOCK, President.
New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton.
Massachusetts, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry.
Rhode Island, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery. Connecticut, Roger Sherman,
Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott. New York, William Floyd,
Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris. New Jersey, Richard Stockton,
John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark. Pennsylvania,
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer,
James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross. Delaware, Caesar Rodney,
George Read. Maryland, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles
Carroll, of Carrollton. Virginia, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas
Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, junior, Francis Lightfoot Lee,
Carter Braxton. North Carolina, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn. South
Carolina, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, junior, Thomas Lynch, junior, Arthur
Middleton. Georgia, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton.