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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4


Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0001-0006

Author: Adams, John
Author: Continental Congress
Date: 1776-05-15

V. Preamble to Resolution on Independent Governments

Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; And whereas, no answer, whatever, to the humble petitions of the colonies for redress of grievances and reconciliation with Great Britain, has been or is likely to be given; but, the whole force of that kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; And whereas, it appears absolutely irreconcileable to reason and good Conscience, for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain, and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted, under the authority of the people of the colonies,2 for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as for the defence of their lives, liberties, and properties, against the hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies; therefore, resolved, &c.
Reprinted from ( JCC , 4:357–358); Dft not found.
1. The chronology of the important resolution which, with its preamble, urged the colonies to establish independent governments is confused. We know that the initial resolution came from the committee of the whole, but just when it was originally reported is uncertain. On 6 May the congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole to consider “the state of the United Colonies.” Its chairman, Benjamin Harrison, reported “after some time” that the committee had come into “sundry resolutions, which he laid before Congress,” but the “Corrected Journal” adds, “was ordered to report when the house should be ready to receive them.” The implication is that resolutions were ready but not read on that date. Moreover, we do not know whether the resolution on independent governments was one of the several mentioned. Later the same day Harrison asked for permission for the committee to meet again on the same general topic—the state of the United Colonies. Per• { 12 } mission granted, the committee met again on 8 May, when Harrison reported “that they have had under consideration the matters referred to them, but not having come to any resolution thereon, have desired him to move for leave to sit again.” On 9 May the committee chairman reported its conclusions, but consideration of the report was postponed until the 10th. On that day the report was accepted. It recommended to the several effective governing bodies in the colonies that, “where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established,” they “adopt such government as shall . . . best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents” and America. Immediately afterward, it was voted to name JA , Edward Rutledge, and Richard Henry Lee as a committee to draft a preamble ( JCC , 4:329, 330, 338, 340, 342). Undoubtedly JA played an important role in securing the passage of the resolution on independent governments, but no evidence other than a somewhat confused autobiographical statement supports the claim that he wrote it. He did, however, write the preamble, first reported on 13 May and passed on the 15th ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:335, 385; JCC , 4:351, 357–358). JA 's notes on the extensive and sharp debate which it provoked are in Diary and Autobiography , 2:238–240. The resolution and its preamble were printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 22 May. The impact of the resolution and preamble is succinctly summarized in Edmund C. Burnett, The Continental Congress, N.Y., 1941, p. 159–161.
2. In Thoughts on Government JA had made a point of having commissions and writs issued in the name of a colony (ante 27 March–April 1776, below).