"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great ..." These words probably ring vaguely familiar, with the holiday approaching on which we celebrate our nation's founding.
However, those sentences aren't part of the Declaration of Independence.
They come from a previous declaration, issued in a previous July by a previous Continental Congress. They are found in the July 6, 1775, document titled "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms."
This document is a crux that connects two of the most influential distinctions of exceptionalism that would define the American Revolution. A full year before dissolving the union with Great Britain, the colonists declared themselves left with no option but to meet tyrannical force with force in an attempt to preserve that union.
"Tyranny" is a word rooted in the cruel brutality of antiquity; by the 18th century its meaning was refined philosophically to regard government oppression in the colonial context. In 1775 America, the greatest tyranny perpetrated by the British wasn't standing armies, or corrupt magistrates, or violations of civil rights (though all those and more were indeed grievances against the ministerial governance of the Crown).
The act of tyranny that drove the deepest wedge between Mother Country and Colonies was taxation.
A decade earlier, James Otis had popularized the phrase "Taxation without representation is tyranny," which had been an Irish complaint for a generation, in response to the first direct tax on the colonists (rather than their trade) via the Stamp Act.
That legislation was ill-advised from the start, but circumstances at its onset seemed logical enough. The English treasury was depleted and awash in debt after the French and Indian War, and British troops in America were costly to maintain. London had a simple view: With empty coffers to be filled, shilling-signs aplenty glittered from across the pond.
Typical of the aristocratic arrogance bred from centuries of European royal reign, the English expectation was blind subservience to confiscation (as duty to King) from the common laborers toiling in the New World.
Nobody, not even the leaders of the various colonies--who had bickered among themselves more than with England--could have predicted the ubiquitous protests that flared across America. In every village, borough, county, township and municipal corner of the colonies, mobs independently organized and planned riotous resistance to the Stamp Act, so that by the date it was supposed to go into effect it had already been essentially nullified.
In light of such developments, parliament wisely repealed the act, and in doing so inadvertently but innovatively altered the course of the Revolution. Had England stuck to her guns on the Stamp Act, the fighting war likely would have broken out in 1765 when the initial thoughts and passions surrounding independence were still at a flash point.
It's noteworthy of the colonial character that, even in time of great property violence and ardent threats and discord in 1765 over the Stamp Act, no loss of life occurred. No royal official, no rioter, no British soldier, no Stamp Act supporter was killed.
That bloodless rejection of Great Britain's authority sparked a decade of deliberation and debate, which proved invaluable. Americans spent the next 10 years exploring and developing ideas about individual rights, natural law and self-government. By the time fighting did break out in 1775, colonial democratic philosophies had matured and galvanized.
Those percolating years provided, in the words of American historian Page Smith, "time for the creation of a remarkably well-articulated set of political principles, and for the training of an unusually gifted group of leaders." Both distinguished the colonial rebellion from other revolutions, which grew more radical from start to finish. The French Revolution proceeded from Girondists to guillotines; the Russian Revolution from Menshevik methodology to the Bolshevik massacre of the czar's family.
The American Revolution ignited with Stamp Act riots, but grew more moderate, culminating in a Continental Congress that was resolved, but cautious rather than reckless.
Ruminating in his retirement, John Adams observed as much in an 1818 letter. "The Revolution was effected before the war commenced," he wrote. "The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."
The 1775 Declaration of Taking Up Arms was hinged to a second extraordinary stroke of favorable fortune, which was the appointment of George Washington as military commander.
The document was the official statement justifying the Congress' assumption of power over the various colonial armies then skirmishing with the Redcoats.
It was an important act of unity by the colonies, laying the foundation for the independence declaration of the United States. Washington had the document read aloud to his troops.
His wartime experience coupled with his singular leadership skills and dignified demeanor were irreplaceable and indispensable in bringing order and discipline as a fighting force to a rag-tag militia, from which few were trained to command, and none to obey.
Our Independence Day celebrates a truly exceptional national origin. Enjoy it!
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 07/01/2016
Print Headline: The previous Declaration