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the Concurrence of the Council in this Matter, have determin’d to proceed without them; and Instructions will go from all Parts on this Head; and it seems, by Appearances thro the Continent, you will not be able to defer a great While your Decision on this grand Question.
On the 17th, Hawley, at Northampton, writes another urgent letter to Samuel Adams.
On the 20th, B. Hichborn writes to John Adams from Boston : "[Qy] The principal political topic of Conversation is Independance & I think the people almost una voce, are wishing for its immediate Declaration - we are often checked by real or fictitious accounts from the Southward, of a contrary disposition in a large Majority of the People there — Some opinions say the Continental Congress will, others that they will not make such a Declaration, without consulting their Constituents — can't we be relieved from this uncertainty ?”
On the 22d, Hawley, at Springfield, writes to Samuel Adams: “[SA] Before this You have rec. the Acc! of the routing of the continental forces before Quebec Will your Congress now delay for a Moment the most explicit declaration of independance [?]”
On June ist, Winthrop — speaking of what is considered later — writes again to John Adams: “[Qy] I have often wondered, that so much difficulty should be raised about declaring independence, when we have actually got the thing itself . . . I now perceive you were in these sentiments long ago. But they are very opposite to the inveterate prejudices and long-established systems of many others.
It must be a work of time to eradicate
these prejudices. And perhaps it may be best to accomplish this great affair by slow and almost imperceptible steps, and not per saltum, by one violent exertion. The late Resolve of May 15. comes very near it.”
On the next day, Hawley, at Watertown, writes to Gerry : “[SA] I do not mean that Confederations and a Declaration of Independance Should be made without a good prospect of its taking in all the Colonies — We are ripe for it here — But as nothing Short of it can Save us, if a Clear Vote can be Obtain' for it in Congress, will it not do to risk it? I imagine that it will take everywhere.”
Indeed, on June 13th (Thursday), Hawley writes, to Gerry: “You cannot declare Independence too soon When the present House here called last week, for the instructions of the several towns touching Independency, agreeable to the recommendation of the last House it appeared that about two-thirds of the towns in the Colony had met, and all instructed in the affirmative 21, and generally returned to be unanimous. As to the other towns 22, the accounts of their Members were, either that they were about to meet, or that they had not received the notice, as it was given only in the newspapers. Whereupon, the House immediately ordered the unnotified towns to be notified by handbills, and in a short time undoubtedly we shall have returns from all; and it is almost certain that the returns will be universally to support the Congress, with their lives and fortunes, in case of a declaration of Independence.”
Before (January 4th) any of these letters was written and even before Common Sense appeared, General Greene,
then at “Camp on Prospect-Hill”, wrote to Ward : “Permit me, then, to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country's cause, a declaration of independence; and call upon
the world, and the great God who governs it, to witness the necessity, propriety, and rectitude thereof."
What Ward replied, if anything, we do not know; but John Adams 23 writes of him, August 18th : “My friend [James] Warren, the late Governour Ward, and Mr. Gadsden, are three characters in which I have seen the most generous disdain of every spice and species of [selfish design] ... The two last had not great abilities, but they had pure hearts. Yet they had less influence than many others, who had neither so considerable parts, nor any share at all of their purity of intention.” Indeed, “Gov! Ward ... died last night of the Small Pox” as shown by the Diary of Richard Smith for March 26th, over two months before the question of declaring independence came (directly) before Congress.
As early as Ward's death, the trend of events, however, was being felt by some of the members of that body — among them Gerry, as we have seen by his (first) letter to Warren, asking Warren to originate instructions, written on the very day on which Ward died ; and Hopkins, the remaining Delegate, very naturally, therefore, communicated — April 8th 2 — with Governor Nicholas Cooke, making certain “queries concerning dependance or independence.”
The General Assembly (of Rhode Island) accordingly, on May 4th, elected William Ellery 25 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Ward and, at the same time, in
structed her Delegates “to consult and advise with the Delegates of the said (other] Colonies in Congress upon the most proper measures ... to secure the said Colonies their rights and liberties . . . whether by entering into treaties ... or by such other prudent and effectual ways and means as shall be devised and agreed upon ...
Of these instructions, Washington was immediately notified, by Cooke, by letter of the 6th; and, on the 7th, writing from Providence, Cooke replied to Hopkins' letter, as follows: “[G] I am to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 8th inst., which I laid before the General Assembly, who appointed a committee to take it into consideration and prepare instructions to the delegates. Dependency is a word of so equivocal a meaning, and hath been used for such ill purposes, and independency, with many honest and ignorant people carrying the idea of eternal warfare, the committee thought it best to avoid making use of either of them. The instructions you will receive herewith, passed both houses nemine contradicente. I enclose an act discharging the inhabitants of the Colony from allegiance to the British King The first mentioned act, after being debated, was carried in the lower house almost unanimously, there being upward of sixty members present, and but six votes against it. Towards the close of the session, a vote passed the lower house for taking the sense of the inhabitants at large upon the question of independency. The upper house were of the opinion that although a very great majority of the Colony were perfectly ripe for such a question, yet, upon its being canvassed, several towns would vote against it, and that the
appearance of disunion would be injurious to the common cause, and represented to the lower house that it was very probable the subject would be discussed in Congress, before it would be possible to take the sense of the Colony in the proposed way and transmit it to the delegates, in which case, they would be laid under the necessity of waiting for the sentiments of their constituents, and of course the Colony would lose its voice, and the delegates when they should receive a copy of the act renouncing allegiance, and of the instructions, could not possibly entertain a doubt of the sense of the General Assembly; upon which the subject was dropped.”
The “upper house seems to have been correct in their judgment; for Hopkins, in his answering letter - dated May 15th — to Cooke, says: “Your favour of the 7th May I have received, and the papers enclosed in it. I observe that you have avoided giving me a direct answer to my queries concerning dependance or independence. However, the copy of the act of Assembly which you have sent me, together with our instructions, leave me little room to doubt what is the opinion of the Colony I came from. I suppose it will not be long before Congress will throw off all connection, as well in name as in substance, with Great Britain, as one thing after another seems gradually to lead them to such a step
The General Assembly of Connecticut, sitting at Hartford, — Trumbull and Williams being present — resolved, June 14th, “ that the Delegates ... be, and they are hereby, instructed to propose to that respectable body to