May 8, 1825
But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects.
When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment,nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.
All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. …
Indeed, the national Declaration of Independence followed dozens of state, county, local, and group declarations throughout the country, terminating the legal authority of the British regime in their own jurisdictions. It fell to Jefferson and the Committee to provide a philosophical basis suitable to a national declaration.
The form these declarations took was traditional: a letter to the King explaining grievances, declaring rights, and establishing new rules to preserve those rights. Thus they were acts of rebellion and disunion in forms that emphasized and embodied the continuity of Anglo-American political tradition.
Anyone who hasn’t read Pauline Maier’s American Scripture should do so between now and next July 4.