Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson

Mr. Randolph was according to expectation obliged to leave the chair of
Congress to attend the Gen. Assembly summoned by Ld. Dunmore to meet on the
1st day of June 1775. Ld. North’s conciliatory propositions, as they were
called, had been received by the Governor and furnished the subject for
which this assembly was convened. Mr. Randolph accordingly attended, and
the tenor of these propositions being generally known, as having been
addressed to all the governors, he was anxious that the answer of our
assembly, likely to be the first, should harmonize with what he knew to be
the sentiments and wishes of the body he had recently left. He feared that
Mr. Nicholas, whose mind was not yet up to the mark of the times, would
undertake the answer, & therefore pressed me to prepare an answer. I did
so, and with his aid carried it through the house with long and doubtful
scruples from Mr. Nicholas and James Mercer, and a dash of cold water on it
here & there, enfeebling it somewhat, but finally with unanimity or a vote
approaching it. This being passed, I repaired immediately to Philadelphia,
and conveyed to Congress the first notice they had of it. It was entirely
approved there. I took my seat with them on the 21st of June. On the 24th,
a commee which had been appointed to prepare a declaration of the causes of
taking up arms, brought in their report (drawn I believe by J. Rutledge)
which not being liked they recommitted it on the 26th, and added Mr.
Dickinson and myself to the committee. On the rising of the house, the
commee having not yet met, I happened to find myself near Govr W.
Livingston, and proposed to him to draw the paper. He excused himself and
proposed that I should draw it. On my pressing him with urgency, “we are as
yet but new acquaintances, sir, said he, why are you so earnest for my
doing it?” “Because, said I, I have been informed that you drew the Address
to the people of Gr. Britain, a production certainly of the finest pen in
America.” “On that, says he, perhaps sir you may not have been correctly
informed.” I had received the information in Virginia from Colo Harrison on
his return from that Congress. Lee, Livingston & Jay had been the commee
for that draught. The first, prepared by Lee, had been disapproved &
recommitted. The second was drawn by Jay, but being presented by Govr
Livingston, had led Colo Harrison into the error. The next morning, walking
in the hall of Congress, many members being assembled but the house not yet
formed, I observed Mr. Jay, speaking to R. H. Lee, and leading him by the
button of his coat, to me. “I understand, sir, said he to me, that this
gentleman informed you that Govr Livingston drew the Address to the people
of Gr Britain.” I assured him at once that I had not received that
information from Mr. Lee & that not a word had ever passed on the subject
between Mr. Lee & myself; and after some explanations the subject was
dropt. These gentlemen had had some sparrings in debate before, and
continued ever very hostile to each other.

I prepared a draught of the Declaration committed to us. It was too strong
for Mr. Dickinson. He still retained the hope of reconciliation with the
mother country, and was unwilling it should be lessened by offensive
statements. He was so honest a man, & so able a one that he was greatly
indulged even by those who could not feel his scruples. We therefore
requested him to take the paper, and put it into a form he could approve.
He did so, preparing an entire new statement, and preserving of the former
only the last 4. paragraphs & half of the preceding one. We approved &
reported it to Congress, who accepted it. Congress gave a signal proof of
their indulgence to Mr. Dickinson, and of their great desire not to go too
fast for any respectable part of our body, in permitting him to draw their
second petition to the King according to his own ideas, and passing it with
scarcely any amendment. The disgust against this humility was general; and
Mr. Dickinson’s delight at its passage was the only circumstance which
reconciled them to it. The vote being passed, altho’ further observn on it
was out of order, he could not refrain from rising and expressing his
satisfaction and concluded by saying “there is but one word, Mr. President,
in the paper which I disapprove, & that is the word Congress,” on which Ben
Harrison rose and said “there is but on word in the paper, Mr. President,
of which I approve, and that is the word Congress.”

On the 22d of July Dr. Franklin, Mr. Adams, R. H. Lee, & myself, were
appointed a commee to consider and report on Ld. North’s conciliatory
resolution. The answer of the Virginia assembly on that subject having been
approved I was requested by the commee to prepare this report, which will
account for the similarity of feature in the two instruments.

On the 15th of May, 1776, the convention of Virginia instructed their
delegates in Congress to propose to that body to declare the colonies
independent of G. Britain, and appointed a commee to prepare a declaration
of rights and plan of government.

In Congress, Friday June 7. 1776. The delegates from Virginia moved in
obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should
declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free &
independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the
British crown, and that all political connection between them & the state
of Great Britain is & ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should
be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a
Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.

The house being obliged to attend at that time to some other business, the
proposition was referred to the next day, when the members were ordered to
attend punctually at ten o’clock.

Saturday June 8. They proceeded to take it into consideration and referred
it to a committee of the whole, into which they immediately resolved
themselves, and passed that day & Monday the 10th in debating on the

It was argued by Wilson, Robert R. Livingston, E. Rutledge, Dickinson and

That tho’ they were friends to the measures themselves, and saw the
impossibility that we should ever again be united with Gr. Britain, yet
they were against adopting them at this time:

That the conduct we had formerly observed was wise & proper now, of
deferring to take any capital step till the voice of the people drove us
into it:

That they were our power, & without them our declarations could not be
carried into effect;

That the people of the middle colonies (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylva, the
Jerseys & N. York) were not yet ripe for bidding adieu to British
connection, but that they were fast ripening & in a short time would join
in the general voice of America:

That the resolution entered into by this house on the 15th of May for
suppressing the exercise of all powers derived from the crown, had shown,
by the ferment into which it had thrown these middle colonies, that they
had not yet accommodated their minds to a separation from the mother

That some of them had expressly forbidden their delegates to consent to
such a declaration, and others had given no instructions, & consequently no
powers to give such consent:

That if the delegates of any particular colony had no power to declare such
colony independant, certain they were the others could not declare it for
them; the colonies being as yet perfectly independant of each other:

That the assembly of Pennsylvania was now sitting above stairs, their
convention would sit within a few days, the convention of New York was now
sitting, & those of the Jerseys & Delaware counties would meet on the
Monday following, & it was probable these bodies would take up the question
of Independance & would declare to their delegates the voice of their

That if such a declaration should now be agreed to, these delegates must
retire & possibly their colonies might secede from the Union:

That such a secession would weaken us more than could be compensated by any
foreign alliance:

That in the event of such a division, foreign powers would either refuse to
join themselves to our fortunes, or, having us so much in their power as
that desperate declaration would place us, they would insist on terms
proportionably more hard and prejudicial:

That we had little reason to expect an alliance with those to whom alone as
yet we had cast our eyes:

That France & Spain had reason to be jealous of that rising power which
would one day certainly strip them of all their American possessions:

That it was more likely they should form a connection with the British
court, who, if they should find themselves unable otherwise to extricate
themselves from their difficulties, would agree to a partition of our
territories, restoring Canada to France, & the Floridas to Spain, to
accomplish for themselves a recovery of these colonies:

That it would not be long before we should receive certain information of
the disposition of the French court, from the agent whom we had sent to
Paris for that purpose:

That if this disposition should be favorable, by waiting the event of the
present campaign, which we all hoped would be successful, we should have
reason to expect an alliance on better terms:

That this would in fact work no delay of any effectual aid from such ally,
as, from the advance of the season & distance of our situation, it was
impossible we could receive any assistance during this campaign:

That it was prudent to fix among ourselves the terms on which we should
form alliance, before we declared we would form one at all events:

And that if these were agreed on, & our Declaration of Independance ready
by the time our Ambassador should be prepared to sail, it would be as well
as to go into that Declaration at this day.

On the other side it was urged by J. Adams, Lee, Wythe, and others

That no gentleman had argued against the policy or the right of separation
from Britain, nor had supposed it possible we should ever renew our
connection; that they had only opposed its being now declared:

That the question was not whether, by a declaration of independance, we
should make ourselves what we are not; but whether we should declare a fact
which already exists:

That as to the people or parliament of England, we had alwais been
independent of them, their restraints on our trade deriving efficacy from
our acquiescence only, & not from any rights they possessed of imposing
them, & that so far our connection had been federal only & was now
dissolved by the commencement of hostilities:

That as to the King, we had been bound to him by allegiance, but that this
bond was now dissolved by his assent to the late act of parliament, by
which he declares us out of his protection, and by his levying war on us, a
fact which had long ago proved us out of his protection; it being a certain
position in law that allegiance & protection are reciprocal, the one
ceasing when the other is withdrawn:

That James the IId. never declared the people of England out of his
protection yet his actions proved it & the parliament declared it:

No delegates then can be denied, or ever want, a power of declaring an
existing truth:

That the delegates from the Delaware counties having declared their
constituents ready to join, there are only two colonies Pennsylvania &
Maryland whose delegates are absolutely tied up, and that these had by
their instructions only reserved a right of confirming or rejecting the

That the instructions from Pennsylvania might be accounted for from the
times in which they were drawn, near a twelvemonth ago, since which the
face of affairs has totally changed:

That within that time it had become apparent that Britain was determined to
accept nothing less than a carte-blanche, and that the King’s answer to the
Lord Mayor Aldermen & common council of London, which had come to hand four
days ago, must have satisfied every one of this point:

That the people wait for us to lead the way:

That they are in favour of the measure, tho’ the instructions given by some
of their representatives are not:

That the voice of the representatives is not always consonant with the
voice of the people, and that this is remarkably the case in these middle

That the effect of the resolution of the 15th of May has proved this,
which, raising the murmurs of some in the colonies of Pennsylvania &
Maryland, called forth the opposing voice of the freer part of the people,
& proved them to be the majority, even in these colonies:

That the backwardness of these two colonies might be ascribed partly to the
influence of proprietary power & connections, & partly to their having not
yet been attacked by the enemy:

That these causes were not likely to be soon removed, as there seemed no
probability that the enemy would make either of these the seat of this
summer’s war:

That it would be vain to wait either weeks or months for perfect unanimity,
since it was impossible that all men should ever become of one sentiment on
any question:

That the conduct of some colonies from the beginning of this contest, had
given reason to suspect it was their settled policy to keep in the rear of
the confederacy, that their particular prospect might be better, even in
the worst event:

That therefore it was necessary for those colonies who had thrown
themselves forward & hazarded all from the beginning, to come forward now
also, and put all again to their own hazard:

That the history of the Dutch revolution, of whom three states only
confederated at first proved that a secession of some colonies would not be
so dangerous as some apprehended:

That a declaration of Independence alone could render it consistent with
European delicacy for European powers to treat with us, or even to receive
an Ambassador from us:

That till this they would not receive our vessels into their ports, nor
acknowledge the adjudications of our courts of admiralty to be legitimate,
in cases of capture of British vessels:

That though France & Spain may be jealous of our rising power, they must
think it will be much more formidable with the addition of Great Britain;
and will therefore see it their interest to prevent a coalition; but should
they refuse, we shall be but where we are; whereas without trying we shall
never know whether they will aid us or not:

That the present campaign may be unsuccessful, & therefore we had better
propose an alliance while our affairs wear a hopeful aspect:

That to await the event of this campaign will certainly work delay, because
during this summer France may assist us effectually by cutting off those
supplies of provisions from England & Ireland on which the enemy’s armies
here are to depend; or by setting in motion the great power they have
collected in the West Indies, & calling our enemy to the defence of the
possessions they have there:

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