came a government, to manage the continental revolution ; and, during the
summer, a third lot of provincial conventions openly avowed themselves
governments for their respective colonies, appointing committees of safety
(in place of the royal governors, who had been set aside or 4nven out),
and themselves assuming even the forms of legislative bodies.
256. The members of the Second Continental Congress, like those of
the First, had been elected, not as a legislature, but to formulate opinion,
and to report their recommendations back to their colonies for approval.
The war changed all that. A central government was imperative ; and
the patriot party everywhere recognized the Congress as the only agent
to fill that place.
For the first five weeks, that body continued to pass recommendations
only. But June 15 it adopted the irregular forces about Boston as a
continental army, and appointed George Washington commander in
chief. A year later it proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.
Between these two events it created a navy, opened negotiations with
foreign states, issued bills of credit on the faith of the colonies, and took
over (from the old English control) the management of Indian affairs
and of the crude post office system.
257. But the Revolution in governments was not one move
ment. It was a whirl of thirteen State revolutions within this
Continental revolution. The development of the State govern
ment of Virginia is fairly typical.
County gatherings in December and January (1774-1775)
approved the Continental Congress and set up the Association,
so that a second convention was not necessary until it came
time to appoint delegates to the Second Continental Congress.
Meantime, many counties, on their own initiative, organized
and armed a revolutionary militia (Source Book, No. 132).
The First Convention (August, 1774) had authorized its chair
man to call a second when desirable. The Second Conven
tion met March 20, 1775. It passed only " recommenda
tions " in form ; but it did organize the revolutionary militia
into a state system. It sat only eight days ; but it recom
mended the counties at once to choose delegates to a Third
Convention to represent the colony for one year.
Governor Dunmore forbade the elections to this Third
Convention as " acts of sedition " ; but they passed off with
258] AS IN VIRGINIA 215
regularity. Meantime, the governor called an Assembly, to
consider a proposal from Lord North, intended to draw Virginia
away from the common cause. Instead of this, the Assembly
gave formal sanction to all the acts of the Continental con
gresses and of the Virginia conventions. In the squabbles
that followed, Dunmore took refuge on board a British man-of-
war. The Assembly strenuously " deplored " that their gov
ernor should so " desert " the " loyal and suffering colony,"
and adjourned, June 24. This ended the last vestige of royal
govei'nment in Virginia.
Three weeks later, the Third Convention gathered at Rich
mond (out of range of guns from warships), and promptly
assumed all powers and forms of government. It gave all
bills three readings, and enacted them as ordinances; and it
elected an executive (a " committee of safety "), and appointed
a colonial Treasurer and other needful officials. In the winter
of 1776, it dissolved, that a new body, fresher from the people,
might act on the pressing questions of independence and of a
permanent government ( 261).
258. The Loyalists early began to accuse the Patriots of aiming
at independence. But, until some months after Lexington, the
Patriots vehemently disavowed such "villainy," protesting en
thusiastic loyalty to King George. They were ready to fight,
but only as Englishmen had often fought, to compel a
change in " ministerial policy."
Otis, Dickinson, Hamilton, in their printed pamphlets, all
denounced any thought of independence as a crime. Con
tinental congresses and provincial conventions solemnly re
peated such disclaimers. In March, 1775, Franklin declared
that he had never heard a word in favor of independence
" from any person drunk or sober." Two months later still,
after Lexington, Washington soothed a Loyalist friend with
the assurance " that if the friend ever heard of his [Washing
ton's] joining in any such measure, he had leave to set him
down for everything wicked " ; and June 26, after becoming
commander of the American armies, Washington assured the
New Yorkers that he would exert himself to establish " peace
and harmony between the mother country and the colonies."
In September, 1775, Jefferson was still " looking with fondness
towards a reconciliation," and John Jay asserts that not until
after that month did he ever hear a desire for independence
from "an American of any description." For months after
Bunker Hill, American chaplains, in public services before the
troops, prayed for King George ; and, for long, Washington
continued to refer to the British army merely as the " minis
terial troops." Even in February, 1776, when Gadsden in the
South Carolina convention
expressed himself in favor
of independence, he roused
merely a storm of dismay,
and found no support.
And a month later still,
Maryland instructed her
delegates not to consent
to any proposal for inde
pendence (Source Book,
259. All this was hon
estly meant ; but the years
of agitation had sapped the
ties of loyalty more than
men really knew, and a
few months of war broke
them wholly. In the fall of 1775, the King refused contemptu
ously even to receive a petition for reconciliation from Con
gress ; and soon afterward, he sent to America an army of
" Hessians " hired out, for slaughter, by petty German prince
lings. Moreover, it became plain that, in order to resist
England, the colonies must have foreign aid ; and no foreign
power could be expected to give us open aid while we
remained English colonies.
Thus, unconsciously, American Patriots were ready to change
THE CONCORD FIGHT. From the imagi
native painting by Simmons, in the
State House at Boston.
260] THOMAS PAINE'S "COMMON SENSE" 217
front. Then, in. January, 1776, canie Thomas Paine's daring
and trenchant argument for independence in Common Sense.
This fifty-page publication, in clarion tone, spoke out what the
community hailed at "once as its own unspoken thought. One
hundred and twenty thousand copies sold in three months,
one for every three families in America.
At first the author's name was not given, and the booklet
was commonly attributed to one of the Adamses or to Franklin.
Paine was a poor English emigrant, of thirteen months before,
whom Franklin had befriended for the " genius in his eyes."
A few lines may represent his terse style.
"The period of debate is closed. Arms . . . must decide. ... By
referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era in politics is struck.
. . . All plans . . . prior to the nineteenth of April are like the almanacs
of last year. . . .
" Where, say some, is the king of America ? I'll tell you, friend. He
reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind, like the royal brute
of Britain. ... A government of- our own is our natural right. . . .
Freedom has been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long
expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger; and England has
given her warning to depart. O, receive the fugitive and prepare in time
an asylum for mankind."
260. Meantime, the growth of independent State governments
was going on. Several colonies had applied to Congress for
counsel, in the disorders of the fall of 1775. In reply, Congress
" recommended " the provincial convention of New Hampshire
" to call a full and free representation of the people . . . [to] establish
such a form of government as in their judgment will best produce the
happiness of the people and most effectually secure peace and good order
in that province, during the continuance of the present dispute between
Great Britain and the colonies."
Under such advice, early in 1776, New Hampshire and South
Carolina set up provisional constitutions. These documents,
however, did not imply independence. They declared them
selves temporary, and referred always to the commonwealths
not as States, but as " colonies."
218 INDEPENDENCE [ 261
But May 15, 1776, Congress took more advanced action. It
recommended the " assemblies and conventions " of all colonies,
"where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs hath
been hitherto established, to adopt such a government as shall, in the
opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness
and safety of their constituents in particular, and of America in general."
Two days later, in a letter to his wife, John Adams hailed this
action (for which he had been the foremost champion) as " a
total, absolute independence . . . for such is the amount of the
resolve of the 15th."
261. One colony, however, had not waited for this counsel.
The Fourth Virginia Convention met May 6, 1776, and turned at
once to the questions of independence and of a constitution. 1 The
only difference of opinion was 2 : Should Virginia, standing
alone, declare herself an independent State and frame a con
stitution for herself? Or should she try to get the Conti
nental Congress to make a declaration and to suggest a general
model of government for all the new States ? Plans were
presented, representing each of these views. On Ma}^ 15, after
much debate, the convention determined upon a middle plan.
Unanimously it instructed its representatives in Congress to move
immediately for a general Declaration of Independence there ;
and it appointed committees at once to draw up a constitution for
Virginia herself as an independent State. This was done some
days before the recommendation of Congress for State consti
tutions was known in Virginia.
The bill of rights (the first part of the constitution) was
reported by the committee May 27, and adopted by the con
vention June 12. The "frame of government" was adopted
June 29. To it at the last moment was prefixed a third part
of the constitution, a declaration of independence for Virginia,
earlier than the Continental Declaration (Source Book) .
1 The student must get the connection with the story in 257.
2 On May 10, Charles Lee wrote to Washington, " A noble spirit possesses
the Convention. They are almost unanimous for independence, but differ as
to the mode. Two days will decide."
262] VIRGINIA'S BILL OF RIGHTS 219
262. The Virginia Bill of Rights l was the first document of
the kind in our history, and it remains one of our greatest
state papers. Three or four States at once copied it, and all
the bills of rights during the Revolutionary period show its
influence. Some provisions, such as those against excessive
bail, cruel or unusual punishments, arbitrary imprisonment,
and the like, go back to ancient English charters, even for their
wording. Recent grievances suggested certain other clauses,
the prohibition of "general warrants," the insistence upon
freedom of the press, and the emphasis upon the idea that a
jury must be " of the vicinage " (neighborhood).
More significant still, this immortal document opens with a
splendid assertion of human rights. English bills of rights had
insisted upon the historic rights of Englishmen, but had said
nothing of any rights of man: they had protested against
specific grievances, but had asserted no general principles. Such
principles, however, had found frequent expression in English
literature, and thence had become household phrases with
American political thinkers. 2 Now, these fundamental prin
ciples, upon which American government rests, were incor
porated by George Mason in this Virginia bill of rights, a
fact which distinguishes that document from any previous
governmental document in the world. Two or three weeks
later, Jefferson incorporated similar principles, clothed in
phrase both more eloquent and more judicious, in the opening
paragraphs of the Continental Declaration of Independence.
Among the principles of the Virginia document are the
1 Source Book, No. 136. The class should study it (and the comment upon
it there) , and compare the opening passages with corresponding parts of Jef
ferson's Declaration of Independence.
2 Cf . Otis' words, close of 217. About 1760, this same democratic Eng
lish literature began deeply to affect a few French thinkers, like Rousseau,
the prophet of the later French Revolution. These men stated the old English
truths with a new French brilliancy ; and it is sometimes hard to say
whether the American leaders drew their doctrines from the French or the
older English sources.
220 INDEPENDENCE [ 263
"That all men are by nature equally free 1 and independent, and have
certain inherent rights. . . .
"That all power is ... derived from the people.
"That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common
benefit of the people . . . and that when any government shall be found
inadequate ... a majority of the community hath an indubitable,
inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it. ...
"That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be pre
served . . . but ... by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
"That ... all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of reli
gion, according to the dictates of conscience." 2
ORIGINAL DRAFT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, in the hand
writing of Jefferson, " written without reference to book or pamphlet."
A photograph (reduced) from a facsimile in the Boston Public Library.
263. June 7, soon after the Virginia instructions of May 15
reached Philadelphia, the Virginia delegation in the Continental
Congress moved that the united colonies be declared " free and in-
1 According to Edmund Randolph, the phrase equally free was objected to
as inconsistent with slavery. Such objectors were quieted with the amazing
assurance that "slaves, not being constituent members of our society, could
never pretend to any benefit from such a maxim." In Massachusetts, similar
words in her bill of rights of 1780 were held by her courts to have abolished
slavery within her limits, though that result was not thought of when the
clause was adopted.
2 This last clause was moved by Patrick Henry.
264] THE DECLARATION, JULY 4, 1776 221
dependent States." Brief debate followed ; but action was
postponed, to permit uninstructed delegates to consult their
Assemblies. Meantime, Congress appointed a committee to
prepare a fitting " Declaration " for use if the motion should
prevail. Happily it fell to Thomas Jefferson to pen the docu
ment ; and his splendid faith in democracy gave it a convinc
ing eloquence which has made it ever since a mighty power in
directing the destiny of the world.
By July 1, all delegations except New York's had either
received positive instructions to vote for independence or had
at least been released from former restrictions against doing
so ; and the matter was again taken up. The first vote was
divided ; but on the next day (July 2) the motion for inde
pendence was carried by the vote of twelve States. The formal
Declaration, reported by the committee, was then considered
in detail, and adopted on July 4. On the 9th, a new (Fourth)
Provincial Congress for New York gave the assent of that
Details for each State are given in West's American History and Gov
ernment, 150. The delegates from New York wrote home for instruc
tions (June 10), but the Third New York Convention replied that it could
not presume to give authority. A "Fourth Convention" was called at
once, to act upon the matter. This was virtually a referendum. The
new convention did not meet until July 9, and so the delegates from New
York at Philadelphia took no part in the votes.
John Adams regarded the vote of July 2 as the decisive step. On the
3d of July he wrote to his wife : " The second day of July, 1776, will be
the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to be
lieve that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great
anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliver
ance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solem
nized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells,
bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other,
from this time foreward forever more."
264. Military events in '76 were indecisive. In the spring,
after nearly a year's siege, Washington forced the English out
of Boston ; but he was unable to prevent their occupying New
222 INDEPENDENCE [ 264
York. Defeated badly at Long Island and White Plains,
Ms sadly lessened troops fled through New Jersey into Penn
sylvania ; but a few weeks later he cheered the Patriots by the
dashing winter victories of Trenton and Princeton. In the
darkest of the dark days before those victories, Thomas Paine
thrilled America with The Crisis. This pamphlet was a mighty
factor in filling the levies and dispelling despondency. Pages
of it were on men's tongues, and the opening sentence has
passed into a byword, " These are the times that try men's
Meantime the revolution in governments went on. Said John
Adams toward the close of '76, " The manufacture of gov
ernments is as much talked of as was the manufacture of salt
peter before." In the six months between the Declaration of
Independence and the Battle of Trenton, seven States followed
Virginia in adopting written constitutions. Georgia was hin
dered for a time by the predominance of her Tories ; and New
York, because she was held by the enemy. These States fol
lowed in '77. The remaining three States had already set up
provisional governments. In Massachusetts and New Hamp
shire, these remained in force for some years. South Carolina
adopted a regular constitution in '78.
Thanks to the political instinct of the people, the institution
of these new governments, even in the midst of war' and inva
sion, was accomplished quietly. As to Virginia, Jefferson
wrote (August 13, '77), " The people seem to have laid aside
the monarchic, and taken up republican government, with as
much ease as would have attended the throwing off an old and
putting on a new suit of clothes."
THE NEW STATE CONSTITUTIONS
I This Chapter may well be discussed in class, with books open. It
is enough if the student, carries away general impressions.]
265. No one of the first eleven constitutions was voted on by the
people. In most cases the " conventions " that adopted them
had no express authority to do so ; and some of those conven
tions had been elected months before there was any talk of
independence. For the most part, the constitutions were enacted
precisely as ordinary laws were.
In Virginia, Jefferson urged a referendum on the constitu
tion, arguing that otherwise the constitution could be repealed
by any legislature, like any other statute. But this doctrine
was too advanced for his State. A " union of mechanics " in
New York, too, protested vigorously but vainly against the
adoption of a constitution by a provincial convention without
" the inhabitants at large " being permitted to " exercise the
right God has given them ... to approve or reject" it.
In New England, 1 on the other hand, thanks to the training
of the town meeting, the sovereignty of the people was under
stood by every artisan and farmer, as elsewhere only by lonely
The legislatures of Ehode Island and Connecticut did adopt
the old charters as constitutions (without change), without ref
erence to the people, because it was held that the people had
already sanctioned them by long acquiescence. But in New
Hampshire and Massachusetts, where new constitutions were
1 The New York " mechanics," just quoted, were mainly of New England
birth or descent. Cf . 170.
224 STATE CONSTITUTIONS, 1776-1784 [ 265
to be adopted, there was no serious thought of acting without a
popular referendum. Indeed, that was not enough. The people
of these States demanded also a popular initiative in the
Throughout the summer of '76, Massachusetts papers and pamphlets
teemed with projects for a new government. 1 September 17 the Assembly
asked the towns to authorize it to prepare a constitution, "to be made
public for the inspection and perusal of the inhabitants, before the ratifi
cation thereof by the Assembly." This would have let the people only
make suggestions. Massachusetts would not tolerate such a plan, and a
general opposition appeared to any action whatever by the ordinary legis
lature. Various towns voted to resist the movement until in the words
of a Boston resolution the people should elect " a convention for this
purpose and this alone." Still the next year (May 5, 1777) the expiring
Assembly recommended that its successor should be empowered, at the
elections, to make a constitution. Many towns again refused assent.
None the less, the new Assembly did venture to submit a constitution to
the vote of the towns (February, 1778). But less than a tenth of the
towns approved the document !
At last the Assembly was converted. It now asked the towns to vote
at the next election whether they would empower their delegates in the
coming Assembly to call a Convention for the sole purpose of forming
a constitution. The responses were favorable, and a Convention was
called for September 1, to be chosen as regular Assemblies were. That
body drew up a constitution which (March 2) was submitted to the
towns. More than two thirds the towns voted to ratify; and in June,
1780, the constitution went into effect.
In New Hampshire a like method was followed ; and, after three
plans had been rejected, a constitution was ratified in 1783. It was
many years before this method became general outside New England.
No more democratic way has yet been discovered than the Massachusetts
plan: (1) popular initiative; (2) a true "constitutional convention";
(3) a referendum on the result.
1 Some of these were fantastic. Democracy, of course, will show its weak
points. One "farmer" published a constitution of sixty articles, 1 which, he
boasted modestly, he had prepared for the commonwealth " between the hours
of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M." Opposition to any executive was common. At a
slightly later date, one town voted " that it is Our Opitmiun that we do not
want any Goviner but the Guviner of the univarse and under him a States
Gineral to Consult with the wrest of the united stats for the good of the
266. The thirteen constitutions were strikingly alike. 1 All
were "republican" without a trace of hereditary privilege.
Nearly all safeguarded the rights of the individual by a dis
tinct bill of rights. Most of them formally adopted the English
Common Law as part of the law of the land. Except in Penn
sylvania and Georgia (the two youngest States) the legisla
ture had two Houses. Pennsylvania kept a plural executive,
a council with one member designated as " president " ;
but elsewhere the revolution
ary committees of safety gave
way to a single
267. The governors had less
power than the old colonial
governors. The people did not
yet clearly see the difference
between trusting an officer
chosen by themselves and one
appointed by a distant king.
New York and Massachusetts,
however (the eleventh arid
twelfth States to adopt con
stitutions), had had time to
learn the need of a firm execu
tive, and strengthened that
branch of government some
what, though they left it weaker than is customary to-day.
These two States also placed the election of the governor in the
hands of the people directly. That was already the case in
1 This was due mainly to the similarity between the preceding colonial
governments, but in part to a remarkably active interchange of ideas
among the leaders during the spring and summer of '76. Before the Fourth
Virginia Convention ( 261) Patrick Henry corresponded freely with the
two Adamses. Members of Congress at Philadelphia constantly discussed
forms of government at informal gatherings; and, on several occasions,
delegates from distant colonies returned home to take part in constitution'
THE " BUNKER HILL, " FLAG, used by
the Massachusetts Colonials. The
ground is blue. One corner is
quartered by the red Cross of St.
George (the English emblem) with
the Massachusetts "Pine." Now
in the State House at Boston.
STATE CONSTITUTIONS, 1776-1784