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184 Four charges are brought against me. First, That I opposed the declaration of independence in Congress.
The first charge, as it is made, I deny : but I confess that I opposed the making the declaration of independence at the time when it was made. The right and authority of Congress to make it, the justice of making it, I acknowledged. The policy of then making it I disputed.
To render this charge criminal, it should be shewn that I was influenced by unworthy motives. It will not be enough to prove that I was mistaken: so far from it, that if it appears I was actuated by a tender affection for my country, I know my country will excuse the honest error.
When that momentous affair was considered in Congress, I was a member of that honourable body for this state. I thereby became a trustee for Pennsylvania immediately, and in some measure for the rest of America. The business related to the happiness of millions then in existence, and of more millions who were unborn. I felt the duty and endeavoured faithfully to discharge it.
Malice and envy must sigh and confess, that I was among the very first men on this continent, who by the open and decided steps we took staked our lives and fortunes on our country's cause. This was done at an æra of the greatest danger, as it was unknown how far we should be supported. In this point, no reserve, no caution was used by me ; and, tho' marked out by peculiar circumstances for the resentment and vengeance of our enemies, if they had succeeded, I frankly pledged my all for her freedom.
Thus far I had a right to go, whatever I ventured, for I was risking only my own. But when I came to deliberate on a point of the last importance to you and my other fellow citizens, and to your and their posterity, then, and not till then, I became guilty of reserve and caution — if it was guilt to be more concerned for you and them, than I had been for myself. For you and them I freely devoted myself to every hazard. For
you and them I exerted all my cares and labours, that not one drop of blood should be unnecessarily drawn from American veins, nor one scene of misery needlesly introduced within American borders.
My first objection to making the declaration of independence, at the lime when it was made, arose from this consideration: It was acknowledged in the debate, that the first campaign would be decisive as to the final event of the controversy. I insisted that the declaration would not strengthen us by one man, or by the least supply — on the contrary, it might be construed to manifest such an aversion on our part, as might inAame the calamities of the contest, and expose our soldiers and inhabitants in general to additional cruelties and outrages We ought not, without some prelusory trials of our strength, to commit our country upon an alternative, where, to recede would be infamy, and to persist might be destruction.
No instance was recollected of a people, without a battle fought or an ally gained, abrogating forever their connection with a great, rich, warlike, commercial empire, whose wealth or connections had always procured allies when wanted, and bringing the matter finally to a prosperous conclusion.
It was informing our enemies what was the ultimate object of our arms, which ought to be concealed until we had consulted other powers, and were better prepared for resistance It would too soon confirm the charges of those in Great Britain who were most hostile to us, and too early contradict the defences made by those who were most friendly toward us.
It might therefore unite the different parties there against us, without our gaining anything in counterbalance. — And it might occasion disunion among ourselves, and thus weaken us. With other powers, it might rather injure than avail us —
There was a certain weight and dignity in such movements, when they appeared to be regulated by prudence, that would be lost, if they were attributed to the emotions of passion. If politicians should be induced to ascribe the measure to the violence of this dictator, we might be deprived in their judgment of the merit of what they thought we had well done before, and of a just credit with them in future for our real force and fixed intentions — How such a judgment would operate was obvious.
Foreign aid would not be obtained by the declaration, but by our actions in the field, which were the only evidences of our union and vigour that would be respected, — and by the sentiments statesmen should form upon the relative consequences of the dispute. This opinion was confirmed by many similar instances particularly in the war between the United Provinces of the Low Countries and Spain, in which France
If it was
and England assisted the former, before they declared themselves independent, which they did not do till the ninth year of the war. the interest of any European kingdom or state to aid us, we should be aided without such a declaration. If it was not we should not be aided with it. On the sixth day of July, 1775, a year within two days before the declaration, Congress assured the people of America in an address, that, “ Foreign assistance UNDOUBTEDLr attainable." FACTS SUBSEQUENT TO THAT DATE, WITH WHICH EVERY MEMBER WAS ACQUAINTED IT WAS NEEDLESS TO MENTION.
We ought to know the dispositions of the great powers, before such an irrevocable step should be taken; and, if they did not generally chuse to interfere, ho far they would permit any one or more of them to interfere. The erection of an Independent Empire on this continent was a phænomenon in the world - Its effects would be immense, and might vibrate round the globe - How they might affect, or be supposed to affect old establishments, was not ascertained — It was singularly disre- , spectful to France, to make the declaration before her sense was known, as we had sent an agent expressly to enquire, “ whether such a declaration would be acceptable to her ;” and we had reason to believe he was then arrived at the court of Versailles - Such precipitation might be unsuitable to the circumstances of that kingdom, and inconvenient - The measure ought to be delayed, till the common interests should be in the best manner consulted, by common
Besides, the door to accommodation with Great Britain ought not to be shut, until we knew what terms could be obtained from some competent power — Thus to break with her, before we had compacted with another, was to make experiments on the lives and liberties of my countrymen, which I would sooner die than agree to make ; at best, it was to throw us into the hands of some other power, and to lie at mercy; for we should have passed the river, that was never to be repassed — If treated with some regard, we might yet be obliged to receive a disagreeable law tacked to a necessary aid. This was not the plan we should pursue. We ought to retain the declaration, and remain as much masters as possible of our own fame and fate — We ought to inform that power, that we were filled with a just detestation of our oppressors; that we were determined to cast off for ever all subjection to them; to declare ourselves independent; and to support that declaration with our lives and fortunes — provided that power should
approve the proceeding; would acknowledge our independence, and enter into a treaty with us upon equitable and advantageous conditions.
True it is, that we have happily succeeded, without observing the precautions; and let my enemies triumph in this concession, when they shall have produced an example from history to equal the justice, wisdom, benevolence, magnanimity, and good faith, displayed by his most christian majesty, in his conduct towards us. Till then, at least, let me be pardoned for having doubted — whether there was such a monarch upon earth.
Other objections to making the declaration, at the time when it was made, were suggested by our internal circumstances. To me it seemed, that, in the nature of things, the formation of our governments, and an agreement upon the terms of our confederation, ought to precede the assumption of our station among sovereigns. A sovereignty, composed of several distinct bodies of men, not subject to established constitutions and those bodies not combined together by the sanction of any confirmed articles of union, was such a sovereignty as had never appeared. These particulars would not be unobserved by foreign kingdoms and states, and they would wait for other proofs of political energy, before they would treat us with the desired attention.
With respect to ourselves, the consideration was still more serious.
The forming of our governments was a new and difficult work. They ought to be rendered as generally satisfactory to the people as possible — When this was done, and the people perceived that they and their posterity were to live under well regulated constitutions, they would be encouraged to look forward to confederation and independence, as compleating the noble system of their political happiness — The objects nearest to them were now enveloped in clouds, and therefore those more distant must appear confused. That they were independent, they would know; but the relation one citizen was to bear to another, and the connection one state was to have with another, they did not, could not know. Mankind were naturally attached to plans of government, that promised quiet and security under them. - General satisfaction with them, when formed, would be indeed a great point attained; but persons of reflection would perhaps think it absolutely necessary, that Congress should institute some mode for preserving them from the misfortune of future discords. The confederation ought to be settled before the declaration of inde
pendence. Foreigners would think it most regular — The weaker states would not be in so much danger of having disadvantageous terms imposed upon them by the stronger — If the declaration was first made, political necessities might urge on the acceptance of conditions, that were highly disagreeable to parts of the union. The present comparative circumstances of the states were now tolerably well understood; but some states had very extraordinary claims to territory, that if admitted in a future confederation, as they might be, the terms of it not yet being adjusted all idea of the present comparison between them would be confounded — Those states, whose boundaries were acknowledged, would find themselves sink in proportion to the elevation of their neighbours. Besides, the unlocated lands, not comprehended within acknowledged boundaries, were deemed a fund sufficient to defray a vast part, if not the whole, of the expences of the war. These ought to be considered as the property of all of the states, acquired by the arms of all. For these reasons the boundaries of the states ought to be fixed before the declaration, and their respective rights mutually guaranteed; and the unlocated lands ought also previous to that declaration to be solemnly appropriated to the benefit of all the states : for it might be extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to obtain these decisions afterwards. Upon the whole, when things should be thus deliberately rendered firm at home, and favourable abroad, then let America
" Attolens bumeris FAMAM, et FATA nepotum,” advance with majestic steps, and assume her station among the sovereigns of the world.
Thus to have thought, and thus to have spoke, was my offence, gentlemen, on the subject of independence. Do you condemn me for thinking as I did, or for speaking as I thought ? Could the former be a crime ? and was not the latter a duty ? What title of infamy would have been adequate to my guilt, if, entertaining the sentiments I did, and entrusted as I was, any consideration could have prevailed upon me to suppress those sentiments on a point of such eventful moment to my country? Was I by her placed in Congress, to re-echo the words of others, or to exercise my judgment and obey my conscience, in deciding upon the common welfare?
A powerful consideration was not wanting, to tempt me into a swerving from the rule ever prescribed to myself — that of regarding the general good with singleness of heart. It was my misfortune to have acquired some share of reputation ; for