OTD in History… July 6, 1775, Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history July 6, 1775, The Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms a day after adopting the Olive Branch Petition declaring fidelity to Great Britain King George III and a last appeal to avoid all-out war. The Congress, however, was leaning towards Revolutionary War, three days earlier on July 3, George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia wrote the declaration and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, the author of the Olive Branch petition revised it. When the King would ignore the Olive Branch Petition and proclaim the colonies in rebellion, the colonies and Congress would set a course to independence just barely a year later.
In the declaration, Congress set “forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms.” Congress utilized the same plan as the Olive Branch; they blamed the British Parliament but not the King. They wrote, “The large strides of late taken by the legislature of Great Britain toward establishing over these colonies their absolute rule…” The Congress also blamed Britain’s minister, writing, the “new ministry finding all the foes of Britain subdued” and that they had “the unfortunate idea of subduing her friends also.” They avoid blaming the king instead, stating “parliament then for the first time assumed a power of unbounded legislation over the colonies of America.” The Congress blamed Parliament for the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and most presumably the most recent one the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The declaration’s draft committee gave the task of writing the declaration to a new delegate to the Second Continental Congress; Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. At that point, Jefferson was not well known, and only proved his writing with one pamphlet “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which argued Parliament has no rights over the colonies. Congress deemed Jefferson’s draft too radical and accusatory, and John Dickinson took over revising the draft to the final form. Instead, of Jefferson accusing Parliament “seeking” to “erect a despotism of unlimited extent” over the colonies, Dickinson wrote, “We mean not to dissolve the union” and “We have not raised Armies with ambitions of separating from Great Britain.” There was a question if Dickinson really subdued Jefferson’s language or just modified it. The declaration still included bold statements such as “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect,” while concluding the colonies “resolved to die Freemen rather than to live Slaves.” Historian John Ferling writing in his book A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic noted, “Nevertheless, even this toned down version, which Congress adopted, was a bold, confrontational document.”
The King gave his response proving to the colonies, Parliament did not act alone. On August 23, 1775, King George III issued “A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” saying the colonies were in an “open and avowed rebellion” after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Then to force conciliation Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act at the end of 1775, prohibiting trade or else American ships would be seized.
It was the last straw; the time was ripe for the independence movement led by John Adams of Massachusetts. Thomas Paine would publish in January his pamphlet Common Sense arguing in favor of the colonies declaring independence and listing the grievances against both Parliament and the King. Historian Peter D. G. Thomas states, “The crisis of 1774 became the war of 1775 and the revolution of 1776” (p. 297). Just a day shy of a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress would adopt the Declaration of Independence permanently severing ties with Great Britain and forming the new democracy, the United States of America.
SOURCES AND READ MORE
Ferling, John E. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Thomas, Peter D. G. Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.