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declare the United American Colonies free and independent States ..
This was just a week after the resolution 26 of May 15th of the Convention of Virginia to the same effect appeared in The Connecticut Gazette; and the Universal Intelligencer (N), published in New London, and after a Delegate of Virginia, as we shall see, had so proposed to Congress.
The Provincial Congress of New Jersey, sitting at New Brunswick, — Abraham Clark and John Hart evidently being present but seemingly none of her Delegates -instructed her Delegates, March 2d: “You must be sensible that this Congress are extremely destitute of the means of information, compared with your body, and, of
course, unable to point out any certain line of conduct for you to pursue. Your deliberations must no doubt be formed upon the measures of the British Ministry, which are uncertain, extraordinary, and new almost every week. We, therefore, only request that you
would join in the general voice of the United Colonies, and pursue such measures as you may judge most beneficial for the publick good of all the Colonies."
Her Delegates at this time were William Livingston, Richard Smith, De Hart, Jonathan D. Sergeant and John Cooper.
Sergeant writes to John Adams, April 6th : “[Qy] I arrived here [doubtless Princeton) last evening in a very indifferent State of Health & shall return or not return [to Philadelphia) according as I have Reason to believe I may be more useful here or there .
achs & my Heart achs. I tremble for the Timidity of our Counsels.
Five days later, certainly at Princeton, he tells Adams: “[Qy] The Jersey Delegates (will You believe it) are not in the sweetest Disposition with one another. M* D’Hart has gone home with an avowed Determination not to return without General Livingston * & at the same Time has declared that he will offer himself as a Candidate for the Provincial Convention thinking that a more important Post, in order that he may control the mad Fellows who now compose that Body. - He has signified the dangerous Disposition of M: Smyth & another of his Colleagues; and all the great & the mighty ones in the Colony are preparing to make their last Stand against the Principles of levelling which prevails in it. M: Smith's Health 2 it seems will not admit of his Attendance, at least not very steadily. - In the mean Time I have engaged to return whenever called upon by General Livingston & M! D’Hart; but rather believe they will not call upon me, tho I have wrote to them requesting it, in order that the colony may not be unrepresented; — tho I fear it will be misrepresented if we attend.30 Whether to return without them is a matter of some Doubt with me, especially since I have been told that some very pious People are circulating a Rumour that I left Congress in Disgust at the Doctrines of Independency which are now advanced. — Whether I may not do more good at home considering all things I am at a Loss to determine.
my Colleagues should go into the Provincial Convention I should be glad to meet them there; and I know the old Leven of Un
rignteousness will strive hard to poison that Body by pushing in every Creature that can lisp against Independence, which in other Words, in my Opinion, is every Creature who would wish to give up the Quarrel. In Congress, if I am to be alone, it will avail little; if with my Colleagues less still ... From this State of the Case I should be much obliged by your Opinion Sunday I must determine one Way or the other if pos
32 P. S. ... The grand Difficulty here is that People seem to expect Congress should take the first Step by declaring Independence, as they phrase it ... I declare boldly to People Congress will not declare Independence in Form ; they are independent; every Act is that of Independence and all we have to do is to establish Order & Government in each Colony that we may support them in it. — Could not this idea be substituted in the place of Independence in the Controversy, which, as it is treated, is no determinate Object, - brings Nothing to an Issue.”
May 20th, he writes (also from Princeton to Adams): “ [Qy] I wrote You soon after I arrived here . . . Ever since I have seen the Inside of Congress I have trembled. Nothing short of a radical Change in the Councils of our Middle Colonies can, I am pursuaded, by any Means save us... Next Week is our Election. I wish I may obtain a Seat in the Convention; but am not over sanguine in my Hopes tho I believe I could easily accomplish it by going out of my present County into the one I came from. However am in Hopes they will chuse good Men there. After the Election I expect to pay You a Visit for a short time; but am determined
that I will not continue to attend [in Congress] along with my present Colleagues any longer than I can avoid. At present, several little Circumstances will form an excuse for my being absent.”
This letter (of May 20th), as shown by its superscription, was delivered 33 to Adams by“ Favour of D! Witherspoon”, who had, himself, three days before it was written, delivered at Princeton a sermon 34 on “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men” in which he said: “36. . . for these colonies to depend wholly upon the legislature of Great Britain, would be like many other oppressive connexions, injury to the master, and ruin to the slave . . . If on account of their distance and ignorance of our situation, they could not conduct their own quarrel with propriety for one year, how can they give direction and vigour to every department of our civil constitutions, from
There are fixed bounds to every human thing. When the branches of a tree grow very large and weighty, they fall off from the trunk. The sharpest sword will not pierce when it cannot reach. And there is a certain distance from the seat of government where an attempt to rule will either produce tyranny and helpless subjection, or provoke resistance and effect a separation.”
Samuel Adams' letter 36 of April 30th has given us some idea of the feeling that prevailed in Pennsylvania.
On the day this letter was written, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer also writes from Philadelphia, to Charles Carroll: “To-morrow will determine the question of Dependence or Independence, in this city, by the elec
tion of four additional members of Assembly ... It is expected 37 this contest will not end without blows” and, on the next day, George Read, also from Philadelphia, to his wife, at Wilmington: “[GR] I flatter myself that I shall see you on Saturday next. Last Saturday the Congress sat, and I could not be absent . . . This day is their election for additional members of Assembly. Great strife is expected. Their fixed candidates are not known. One side talk of Thomas Willing, Andrew Allen, Alexander Wilcox, and Samuel Howell, against independency; the other, Daniel Roberdeau, George Clymer, Mark Kuhl, and a fourth I don't recollect; but it is thought other persons would be put up.”
The election is thus described by Marshall : “38 This has been one of the sharpest contests, yet peacable, that has been for a number of years
I think it
be said with propriety that the Quakers, Papists, Church, Allen family, with all the proprietary party, were never seemingly so happily united .
The resolve of Congress of May 15th, recommending, as we shall see a, the adoption, where not already existing, of proper “government”, however, changed the face of affairs.40 Indeed, as Bancroft aptly expresses it, “The blow which proceeded from John Adams felled the proprietary 41 authority in Pennsylvania and Maryland to the ground .
On the evening of the very day on which Congress took this decisive action, Marshall, “ Past seven, went and met a large number of persons at the Philosophical, by appointment (Col. McKean in the chair), where was debated the resolve of Congress .