The Indictment Portion in the Declaration of Independence

The indictment portion of the Declaration of Independence makes interesting reading. Issued in 1776, one year after the outbreak of war in New England against British forces, the Declaration’s effect was to change the legal status of the violence from a rebellion to the establishment of a state. More British officers died in Bunker Hill in Boston in 1775 than were to die in the rest of the American war of independence. So the Declaration did not start the American Revolution, it changed its legal nature.

The indictment portion of the declaration sets forth what King George III and his Ministry had done to offend the peoples of the Thirteen Colonies, who then numbered one-quarter of all English speaking people. Imagine the British government’s problem. One-quarter of all the people of its nation lived beyond Britain’s borders, three thousand miles and six to twelve weeks of sailing away, on a continent where, by natural increase and immigration, the population would soon equal Britain’s.

Every attempt to repress their drive to  independence alienated them further. The American colonies have been effectively independent for one hundred and fifty years, as England has been convulsed with civil war, change of dynasty (Stuarts to William of Orange), the Cromwellian Republic, and insurrections against Charles II. Now, in 1776, with most of the  North American continent in British hands, the French monarchy having been defeated in the Seven years’ War, the British settlers of North American are throwing off their allegiance to the Crown, believing that they had thrown off the allegiance to the British parliament when they left England a hundred years before. So the transformation in American minds is not that they are throwing off allegiance to the British Parliament. They thought that had been accomplished when they set sail for North America. The Independence they sought was from the British Crown, to which many still bore allegiance.

My comments are in square brackets.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. [He used the veto against colonial assemblies’ legislation]

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. [He governed badly]

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. [He gerrymandered districts and failed to adapt to the growth of electoral boundaries by the westward expansion of colonies]

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people. [If the King did not get the results he wanted, he dissolved colonial parliaments]

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. [By failing to call legislatures into session, the King left us open to Indian raids and unable to coordinate our responses, and has effectively returned sovereignty to the people.]

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. [He has failed to pass necessary immigration laws and land titles acts for new colonists]

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers. [He has failed to establish new court districts in the back country.]

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. [We are overtaxed and over-regulated in our commerce]

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences: [Evasion of maritime taxes and duties were treated as Admiralty offences, liable for trial and punishment in England. One quarter of the overseas trade of the Colonies was smuggled in. ]

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies [The King has taken Quebec and the old borders of New France for an Indian reservation, blocking our westward expansion into the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. He has allowed the old French laws to prevail in the former territories of New France.]

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: [Constitutional innovation without our consent]

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.[Just a fact of life in 1775-1783]

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. [War is war]

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. [All Indian wars involved extermination of women and children, as a measure of population control in hunter societies, viz, the Iroquois destruction of the Hurons]

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Would you have taken up arms in similar circumstances? A question every Canadian loyalist must ask himself occasionally. What made our ancestors stay loyal, at great personal costs? After the counter-revolution I have a few farms to claim on Long Island. As in, next year in Jerusalem.