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WEDNESDAY, JULY 8, 1776. Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the Declaration; and, after some time, the President resumed the chair, and Mr. Harrison reported, that the committee desired leave to sit again.
Resolved, That this Congress will, to morrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the Declaration of Independence.
THURSDAY, JULY 4, 1776. Agreeably to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the Declaration; and after some time the President resumed the chair, and Mr. Harrison re ported that the committee had agreed to a declaration, as follows:
A DECLARATION BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES
OF AMERICA, IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED. 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 a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers 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 absoluta 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 world:
He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
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 to them, 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 meantime, exposed to all the danger of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of chese States; for that pur. pose, 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 our legislature.
He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.
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 pretended legislation:
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 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 powers of our governments:
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 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 the 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. The foregoing declaration was, by order of Congress, engrossed, and signed by the following members:
Stephen Hopkins, George Wythe, William Whipple,
William Ellery. Richard Henry Lee, Matthew Thornton.
Thomas Jefferson, Massachusetts Bay. William Floyd,
Thomas Nelson, jun., Samuel Adams,
Philip Livingston, Francis Lightfoot Lee,
North Carolina. Connecticut. Richard Stockton, William Hooper, Roger Sherman,
John Witherspoon, Joseph Hewes, Samuel Huntington,
Francis Hopkinson, John Penn, William Williams,
John Hart, Oliver Wolcott. Abraham Clark.
Thomas Heyward, jin.,
Thomas Lynch, jun.,
Georgia. George Clymer,
Charles Carroll, George Walton. George Ross.
of Carrollton. Resolved, That copies of the Declaration be sent to the several assemblies, conventions, and committees, or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the army.
HIS PART IN THE FORMATIVE LEGISLATION OF VIRGINIA,
In June, 1776, Mr. Jefferson was reëlected to Congress for the year commencing August 11; but on the 2d of September he vacated his place to take part in the organization and administration of civil government for the State of Virginia-taking his seat in the House of Delegates, October 7, 1776. He had previously contributed the Preamble to the Constitution, adopted June 29, and which was the work mainly of George Mason, whom Mr. Jefferson calls a 'really great man, and of the first order of greatness.' This Preamble was written prior to the Declaration, and contains the same justification for separating from the Colonial relations with Great Britain. On the 11th of October, he was placed on several important committees; and as soon as those committees were organized, (on the 12th) his hand was directing the plowshare of reform into the constitution of the courts of justice, and on the 14th, into the law of entails and primogeniture, by which the great estates of Virginia, were no longer to be handed down from generation to generation to the eldest son, but were brought into distribution from time to time among all the members of a common familyeach share to be subject to increase, diminution, and disposition by the owner's good management or abuse. On the same day he introduced a bill establishing the right of expatriation, and encouraging foreigners to become citizens, on giving assurance of fidelity to the Commonwealth. He was on the 28th placed on a committee to encourage domestic manufactures, and headed in the standing committee on Religion, and in the House, a determined party to rid the State of all church establishments by law, and to inaugurate not toleration but entire liberty of religious opinion and worship.
In 1777, in the Committee for Revision of the Statutes, to Mr. Jefferson was assigned the Common Law and Statutes prior to the 4th of James I., when a Colonial Legislature was established in Virginia. In the final action of the Legislature on these and other bills introduced by Mr. Jefferson, and on the Reports of the Legal Revisers, Mr. Jefferson's views were, in the end, substantially followed, but not without heated and able opposition. The following is the original bill of the act, the authorship of which Mr. Jefferson regarded among his titles to the grateful remembrance of his countrymen. The Bill encountered immediate and strenuous opposition, and did not become a law, with several subsidiary acts, protecting the property of organized ecclesiastical corporations, until 1786.
A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will
, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds ; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall re. main by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanpess, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either
, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such, endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time: that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propaga. tion of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher for his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and in withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet ueither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nur under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
We, the General Assembly, do enact, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we know well that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of suc. ceeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that there. fore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the same or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural rights.