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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
130. The Continental Army Moves to New York. After the evacuation of Boston, the city was occupied by the Continental Army, which placed both Boston and the rest of Massachusetts, not under the civil disobedience regime that had started the original Middlesex uprising, but under the Provincial Congress, which was in reality an outlawed branch of the British administration of Massachusetts, and which actually contained British government spies among its members. Thus Massachusetts was now under a regime which was out of sympathy with the purposes of the minute-men, who, however, still retained control of local town administration in the interior of Massachusetts; and, with the capture of Boston, the smuggling ring of the port of Boston was enabled to take complete control of the Provincial Congress. This was the beginning of a definite counter-revolution in Massachusetts, which was to be consummated a few years later. This risk is always run by any revolution that admits into its administration any part, however small or insignificant, of the administrative machinery of the previous regime. The advantage that the civil disobedience regime had in its complete lack of continuity with the official rule, was now completely lost; and it was mainly that advantage that enabled Massachusetts to initiate the move for a revolution in America.
Although Boston was evacuated on Sunday, March 17, 1776, the British fleet remained off Nantasket, just outside the harbor, for some time longer. The Continental Army had to occupy the islands of Boston Harbor, and then engage in a sea fight with the fleet, before Boston was finally clear of the menace of the possible return of the "ministerial forces," on Friday, June 14.
In the meantime, Lord Howe's army, with the Boston Tories, had sailed for Halifax, where Lord Howe was able to obtain reinforcements from among the loyal inhabitants of newly-settled Nova Scotia, leaving his Tory passengers to take up their abode there. Many Nova Scotia towns at present date their foundation to 1776, and claim ancestors who fled from Boston to escape the rebels of Massachusetts Bay; while many others returned to New England after the revolution to become citizens of the new nation. The monarchists who took the chances of remaining in Boston were afraid of wholesale measures of vengeance from the occupying Continental force, especially from the minute-men; but nothing of the sort took place. No reign of terror was attempted, and even well-known monarchists were allowed to remain undisturbed as long as they behaved peaceably, with the result that most of them, in the course of time, forgot their antagonism to the rebels, who thereby lost enemies where they would have gained many by a policy of vengeance and terrorism. There was, it is true, confiscation of real estate left by the fugitives, especially at the top of Beacon Hill, where most of the English aristocrats in Boston lived; but much of this land was later paid for, and even returned in the case of those who changed sides later. The confiscated land on Beacon Hill is now the site of the State House.
General Washington, however, affected to disbelieve the statement issued by Lord Howe that his destination was Halifax, and insisted on making preparations against Howe's landing in New York. New York, with its aristocratic institutions, in point of fact, interested Washington much more than the strong democratic tendencies of New England with which he found himself in constant opposition; and, with his army out of touch with such Yankee heresies as democracy and independence, Washington's personal contact with such New York aristocratic families as the Livingstons might result in considerable financial support for the Continental Army, as well as head off the rapidly growing agitation for complete independence which the army was beginning to acquire in revolutionary Massachusetts. After all, the Continental Congress was not in sympathy with the minute-men, and was merely supporting a warfare against certain individual officers who were alleged to be tyrants; to prevent the army from getting too far away from the stand of the Congress, it would be necessary to remove them from New England, where, now that Boston was captured, their presence was no longer needed. Accordingly, leaving a small portion of the Continental Army to harass the British fleet off Nantasket, the great bulk of the army was marched across Rhode Island and into Norwich in the province of Connecticut; from there the Continentals went by boat to New York, where they had mostly a sullenly hostile population with which to deal. On Staten Island, across the bay, was a large British camp, which, however, remained quiet as long as it was supposed that the Continentals were not fighting them, but merely acting as a local police for the city; and New York, true to its usual policy of submissiveness to whomever their rulers for the time might be, accepted the Continentals without resistance, although looking to Staten Island for their ultimate deliverance.
131. Independence in Rhode Island. In the meantime British ships were busy on the lines of sea communication between Boston and New York, ranging mainly around the East Paumonok Islands, using Newport as their central base.
Massachusetts had by now achieved a de facto sort of independence, and, although no attempt was made to set that status down on paper, there was a strong tendency by this time in Massachusetts, especially among the former followers of the civil disobedience movement, to regard the community as no longer a British province, but as an independent nation, so that the name, "Province of Massachusetts Bay," the official name of the colony, was gradually being replaced in popular speech, though not officially, by the more independent title "State of Massachusetts Bay." (The term "state" had at that time the meaning of "government" or "nation," so that, in using this title, the people of Massachusetts were regarding themselves as an independent nation, owing no allegiance to any outside power.
Rhode Island and Connecticut differed from the other American colonies in that England had no direct part in their government, merely claiming nominal allegiance, although there had been attempts at interference with Rhode Island; and now Newport was being occupied by the British fleet, though the civil government had not as yet been interfered with. Consequently, there was no real necessity for such a revolution there as would have been requisite to remove British domination elsewhere in America, where England sent over her own governors, judges, and other officials. Rhode Island and Connecticut had, however, aroused English ire by sending help in that siege which had just ousted British forces from Boston, and from Massachusetts generally.
Not long after the evacuation of Boston, the British fleet at Newport began raiding the mainland ports of Narragansett Bay for food supplies and whatever could be taken out of the towns. The town of Bristol was bombarded after it had refused a demand from the fleet to give up all the food in the town for the use of the navy; which, as with the bombardment of Boston a year earlier, aroused antagonistic feeling throughout Rhode Island, to which the rebellion had previously been merely brought in from neighboring Massachusetts.
Also, both among the minute-men and among the New England civilians, the idea of "out-and-out" independence had been gradually spreading. As we have seen, the civil-disobedience territory of Massachusetts (which was now the entire province), as well as Vermont, had had a de facto independence or some time; pamphlets from all over America were now circulating rapidly, which gave form to this inchoate idea. A New York refugee in Philadelphia, Thomas Paine, who had become known by writing a pamphlet on "The Rights of Man" about the time the siege of Boston was beginning, now wrote another pamphlet, which gained great circulation all over America, called "Common Sense," presenting America as a properly separate nationality, urging that England had no claim on America, since England, far from defending America, was now wantonly attacking her, and instancing the sufferings of the "unhappy town of Boston" (which, according to the version the minute-men circulated outside Massachusetts, was not being besieged so much as suffering severe punishment at the hands of the British troops).
This idea of independence received its particular strength when Boston was evacuated, even though the middle and southern colonies still claimed allegiance to the king. But the bombardment of Bristol immediately brought Rhode Island around to a point of view which was already very much "in the air" in New England. Rhode Island had considered herself fairly immune from British interference, and bound to England only by allegiance instead of being governed from England as were the other colonies; so that, while Rhode Island was presumably less concerned with the question of independence than the rest of America, such an act of actual interference as the bombardment of Bristol meant a threat to Rhode Island's self government, and it became a choice of cutting loose or going under. With the British completely out of Massachusetts, and therefore shown to be not as invincible as they had been supposed, the remaining colonies felt less afraid of England, and better able to act for themselves; especially little Rhode Island, surrounded on two sides by Massachusetts territory, and able to rely on Massachusetts for protection in case of trouble.
Consequently, on Saturday, May 4, 1776, the legislature of the little colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations resolved to drop all mention of Great Britain or the King in its charter and laws, and to delete from the records anything implying allegiance to England. For the formula, "God save the King," with which laws and proclamations were concluded, was substituted the formula, "God save the United Colonies," the implication being that the Continental Congress was now the recipient of all the allegiance formerly given to His Britannic Majesty. Since the charter of the colony provided for no direct governing of Rhode Island from England, this renunciation of allegiance was all that was necessary to make the government of Rhode Island completely independent of England.
The fact that, in this case, independence took the form of a legislative resolution is probably what influenced the Continental Congress later to adopt independence in the similar form of a public declaration. Massachusetts had fought hard for its independence, and had won it without using unnecessary words about it; but to Rhode Island belongs the distinction of being the first American colony to make a public declaration of renunciation of allegiance to England―the first American state to put itself down in writing as independent.
132. Independence Discussed by the Continental Congress. The Continental Congress that assembled in Philadelphia in the spring of 1776 was not so over-anxious to protest its allegiance to the King as had been its predecessors of the two previous years. By the time the delegates from all the colonies assembled, the only irreconcilable loyalists appeared to be some of the New York delegation. Independence was a subject already widely discussed through America, though still much under cover. The evacuation of Boston by the British on March 17, and the ensuing declaration of independence by Rhode Island on May 4 (which Connecticut shortly afterwards seconded), made the question a very live issue, especially in New England, where independence was already almost an accomplished fact. In the South, there was no such readiness to accept independence as a solution of the difficulties, even though the Virginia "liberals," who sympathized more with the New Englanders than with the local aristocrats who were the main opponents of the administration, rather favored the idea of breaking loose from England. As we have seen, the secret organizations in the interior of North Carolina had already committed themselves for independence. But the Virginia liberals were hesitating, though hoping for some decisive action to mark their own anniversary, the centennial of the amnesty of the Bacon rebellion, which was due to be celebrated on July 4, 1776. In the middle colonies, New York, which carried with it the eastern part of New Jersey, had always been definitely hostile to the rebel movement, while Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, where there was some agitation against control by the feudal proprietary families of Penn and Calvert, were beginning to be mildly interested in independence as one way to remove their overlords, although it was still hoped that such extreme measures would not be required. Even among the super-loyal population of New York City there was already much discussion of what the people there deliberately mispronounced "Indepency," in spite of the fact that few had anything favorable to say on the subject.
As a result, when the question came to a vote in the Continental Congress, Saturday, June 29, eleven of the thirteen colonies were favorable to the proposition to appoint a committee to draw up an independence resolution; New York voted against this proposition, while South Carolina's vote was divided. When the resolution carried the Congress, several New York delegates resigned from the Congress, while the rest of the New York delegation, wishing to remain on the winning side, switched over, so that New York's vote was counted in favor of independence, too.
On that same day, June 29, a British fleet, upon rumors of disloyalty in the South, acted to forestall them by bombarding Charles Town, the chief port of South Carolina; this added much to the anti-British sentiment in South Carolina, and, when the news reached Philadelphia about two weeks later, influenced the remaining South Carolina delegates to sign the declaration of independence which had already been adopted.
The committee appointed by the Congress to draw up a resolution of independence met immediately. It was assumed that John Adams, a cousin of the Boston leader Samuel Adams, would do the actual drafting of the final resolution; but, as the Adamses' policy in the Continental Congress seems to have been to obtain Southern backing by forcing Southerners into responsibility, John Adams managed to shift the drafting work to the Virginian member of the committee, Thomas Jefferson, an outstanding example of the Virginia liberals.
That such a document, when published, would brand the entire delegation as traitors, and be a risk to the lives of all, was not overlooked; besides which, the Continental Congress was not so far removed from the secret associations supporting the rebel movement that it could not understand the need for some such action as misdating to render a possible treason prosecution more difficult, should it ever come to that. Accordingly it was decided to put a false date on the resolution in committee, before the Congress should receive it; and Jefferson, being a leader among the Virginia liberals, selected the Bacon amnesty centennial as the best available date, and one which would gain support in Virginia. Accordingly, not knowing just when Congress would pass upon his resolution, Jefferson affixed on the resolution the "faked" date of Thursday, July 4, 1776, the centennial of Amnesty Day of Virginia's Bacon rebellion, which represented the first recognition of representative government in the South. The Continental Congress passed the independence declaration on July 2; but it has been the day of the temporary victory of Virginia's revolt a hundred years before that which America has since been celebrating as the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which is now reputed, on that account, to have been signed on July 4 instead of July 2.
The risk involved, and the necessity of secrecy were realized all too well by the Continental Congress, as is well instanced by the remark of Benjamin Franklin, the sponsor of the original Continental Congress of 1754, on that occasion: "Now we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately!" Even in Philadelphia it was many days before any public announcement was made of the action, although the people in the city were awaiting the news eagerly; but a public announcement there before opportunity to gain definite support in other parts of America might have been a fatal mistake. The common story representing the news as being announced by loud ringing of the bell in the tower of the building where the Congress met is obviously impossible, as such a mode of celebration might be well suited to a victory of an established regime, rather than to the taking of a new and untried step in a revolution which was as yet merely feeling its way. One reason why it might become easy to suppose that the bell in that tower had been used to signal the signing of the Declaration of Independence was the remarkable coincidence that that particular bell, which was already about twenty years old, had nevertheless been cast with the inscription, quoted from the Bible: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof." But it is enough of a strange coincidence that the Continental Congress should have been holding its meetings in a building surmounted by a bell carrying that inscription; unless, indeed, the building had been selected partly with that appropriate circumstance in mind as a proper place for an organization defending civil rights.
As the "United Colonies of America" were now resolved to be "free and independent states" (i.e., nations), the Continental Congress had to change its own title, the title of the federation it represented. The constituent provinces were now, by their own declaration, independent and sovereign nations instead of British colonies, and the name of "states" had to be substituted for "colonies"; so that the Declaration itself used for the first time the name of the federation as thus changed to meet the new status. The Declaration was entitled "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America"; thus establishing the name of the American "continental" federation, now for the first time a federation of independent nations, as United States of America―which is not the name of a nationality (each state having its own particular national name), but a title merely expressing the fact that the entire republic is essentially federal in form.
From the same motive of secrecy, none of the signatures were in an avowedly official capacity, but simply grouped together by States without any distinctive labels, the "signers" being all members of the Continental Congress who were not voting against the measure; while the signature of the president of the meeting, the same John Hancock who had escaped from Lexington during the battle there, naturally headed the list of signatures, and was much more conspicuous, although he did not, in that document, refer to himself as president of the meeting, since that would have been too dangerous. But, by the passage of the resolution, the President of the Continental Congress of 1776, John Hancock of Boston, automatically became the first president of the United States of America.
133. The Declaration of Independence. The resolution of American independence, as presented to and accepted by the Continental Congress in 1776, was one of the most remarkable documents ever issued in the history of the world. The declaration proper is merely a paragraph at the end of the paper stating: "We therefore, the representatives of the United States, in General Congress assembled……do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do."
But the most interesting and remarkable feature of the document is, not the declaration of independence proper with which the document concludes, but the preamble and explanation which really constitute the body of the document. Probably the only precedent for issuing a declaration of independence in history lay in the two earlier documents of this same revolution, the Mecklenburg Declarations, and the Rhode Island legislative resolutions of independence; in both of which cases a written declaration of renunciation of allegiance was issued, although it was a secret and unpublished declaration in the Mecklenburg case. It was mainly from the Mecklenburg document that the general Continental declaration copied its preamble, which was really an apology, in a way, for going to the length of taking such a step as complete separation. The first paragraph is definitely an explanation of why it was deemed proper to issue a declaration at all on taking the step of renouncing allegiance:
The most remarkable feature of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence issued at Philadelphia on this occasion is, however, the declaration of inalienable rights, which has, in reality, a continuous American history dating back to earliest times. The form the declaration took was largely taken from the Mecklenburg Declarations of the previous year; the substance derives from the Stamp Act Congress petition of 1765, and that, in turn, from the claims of civil rights made by Massachusetts in its charter disputes at the end of the seventeenth century: that, in turn, is related to various declarations of rights enumerated in the earliest laws of the New England colonies, derived directly from the Penacook Federation. The declaration of rights on this occasion, however, differs from the previous ones, and differs from all similar declarations issued in other countries, in that they are declared to be "inalienable," that is to say, rights which the individual cannot waive or surrender, and which are viewed as paramount to the government, and as actual limitations on the latter’s rights and powers―in fact, as the sole basis on which any government can claim the right to govern its people. It is declared that, the people’s inalienable rights being superior to even the existence of governments, it becomes the people’s right and duty to overthrow a government and establish a new one whenever they find their existing government to interfere with their inalienable rights. Rights of individuals have been declared in other countries, but nowhere except in America have those rights been considered as actually limiting the powers of governments: in fact, it is entirely foreign to any European conception that the powers of a government can be restricted in any way, while such limitations have always been native to North America, and has remained in the traditions of Americans, both red and white, even though actual enforcement of those rights and limitations as against the government has been at times very ineffective. This declaration of inalienable rights, standing alone as it does in the world’s history, and being concisely worded, is in itself a passage worth outstanding consideration:
It may be noticed, incidentally, as another mark of the red-race ancestry of these rights, that the right of property, so frequently emphasized by governmental authorities as though it were the only "right" deserving of notice, is totally omitted from the list found in America’s Declaration of Independence; while the right of revolution, which the authorities for obvious reasons have been at great pains to deny, and which they have constantly taught to be un-American, is not merely declared in the document which gave the United States its existence, but is recited and explained in detail. It is distinctly set out in the Declaration of Independence that only a government based on, and recognizing, the inalienable rights of the people, and "deriving just powers from the consent of the governed," is entitled to obedience or even existence, and that otherwise it is the people’s right to abolish the government, establishing a new one in its place. This right, more than anything else, is the very foundation of the entire Declaration of Independence, and therefore of the existence of America as a nation. Not even the right of self-defense is conceded to a government as against its own people; for governments are expressly declared to derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
So impressed, indeed, was Thomas Jefferson, the drafter of the independence resolution, with this right of revolution as a necessity for a free people, that he actually considered that no people could remain truly free without having a revolution at least once every twenty years.
The Continental Congress, in issuing this declaration of independence, not merely brought into existence a new nation to take its place among the powers of the earth; it also brought into being a new concept of government, based on purely American rather than on European antecedents. As opposed to the European idea of "Divine Right of Kings," there was declared to the world on that occasion at Philadelphia the new conception of governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, and whose rights are limited by the superior and inalienable rights of the governed. The new nation may have never succeeded in putting this novel idea actually into effect; but as the characteristic ideal of the American people it remains, and all who claim to believe in America’s Declaration of Independence, and all who claim to celebrate the anniversary of that declaration, should by the same token believe that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of any people to abolish any government interfering with their individual inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is only on this basis that America can claim to be a nation.
134. The Accusations in the Declaration. The greater part of the Declaration of Independence, however, is not either the declaration of rights, or the resolution of independence proper, but an arraignment of the British government, directed specifically against the King, in whose name all official acts were done. It is emphasized, however, that the British people are equally guilty, as accomplices of their government, contrary to the assertions of the modern minimizers of the American revolution, who insist that the English people had no fight with America.
The accusations themselves are illustrative of the heterogeneous character of the tendencies which led to the American Revolution; and it is noteworthy that the prohibition of manufacture and the imposition of slavery on America, two of the greatest sources of complaint in New England, were completely omitted from Philadelphia's arraignment of the British crown. But the establishment of the military regime in Massachusetts came in for its share of notice, the siege operations around Boston still being represented, according the usual version of the day, as a war of soldiery against an unarmed people. Examples of such counts of the arraignment are as follows:
The implication is quite noticeable here that military power must be subordinate to the civil power, and that standing armies maintained among a civil population are in themselves objectionable; a basic keynote of anti-militarism found only in America, which not even the most radical libertarian revolt in Europe has ever been able to attain. It may also be noted that dissolution of legislatures by executive authorities, which still forms a basic part of all governments in Europe, republican as well as monarchical, is definitely set forth as a violation of the people's fundamental rights, and has actually been so treated throughout the entire period of existence of the United States.
Although the prohibition of manufacture, one of the most important of the original causes leading up to the Revolution, was omitted from the Declaration, as being the complaint of a poor element with which the Continental Congress refused to have anything to do, the same did not apply to the less important but noisier accusations made by smuggling rings, which were well represented in the Congress:
Again, the Southern expansionists, who had been fighting through the Great Ohio War for conquest of the Illinois country, made a denunciation of the Quebec Act of 1772, which made that country part of Canada, and barred out settlement by the Southern aristocracy:
It hardly seems consistent with the entire spirit of the Declaration of Independence to speak of the "free system of English laws," which was, apparently, precisely from what it was desired to escape. The charge, of course, really was, that the Ohio territory was reserved for the French of Canada, and for the original red inhabitants, rather than left open for Southern invasion and subjection to Southern aristocrats. Another count of complaint which appeared as a result of the expansionist element in the Congress, was the statement that England had prevented naturalization and immigration. This is particularly interesting in view of the number of people who had been contending, at various periods in the history of the Second Republic, that Americanism consists in limitation or exclusion of immigration and naturalization.
The last item in this count reveals it as an expansionist accusation; but other rebel elements of that time were also able to indorse the complaint against an anti-foreign policy. In fact, one of the potent arguments for independence at that time was that America, far from being of homogeneous origin, was in reality a mixture of all sorts of European national origins, such as the Dutch of New York and New Jersey, the Germans of Pennsylvania, the Swedes of the Delaware Counties, French and Germans in the Carolinas, and mixed nationalities who had been steadily migrating to all parts of America throughout colonial history. Exclusion of foreigners, therefore, was definitely an item of complaint.
On the allied subject of naturalization, mentioned in this count of the accusation, it may be noted that naturalization is a particularly American institution. Those traditions which America has inherited from Europe have never been reconciled to the idea of foreigners being naturalized, since nationality in Europe has always been a matter of heredity, and it was unthinkable for a vassal to cut loose from subjection his lord. In America, on the contrary, naturalization was part of the recognized order long before the white people came, and it has remained an American institution in spite of all European influence to the contrary; and on this subject, as on many others, the Declaration of Independence reveals the clash of interests.
The arraignment of the British administration (personified in the king, because all British governmental action is taken in the king's name) thus appears as a combination of conflicting elements, but as predominantly Southern as the declaration of rights in the same document is Northern. The Declaration of Independence mentions nothing of the items of complaint that had most to do with initiating a civil disobedience and a revolutionary movement in Massachusetts―the manufacturing issue, the land-aristocracy issue, and the slavery issue. Nevertheless it was that neglected element which started the revolt in Middlesex County in Massachusetts which actually made independence in America possible.
135. Federal Structure of the First Republic. The Declaration of Independence made of America a nation which thought of itself more as a federation than as a republic. The primary issue from then on became nationality and independence, and it was on those questions that the rebels and the loyalists were split apart. Together with independence, the right to federate had been an important issue; while the form of government in America was never a primary issue. If America was to be independent, it was somehow taken for granted that a democratic form must follow; indeed, it does not appear that any argument was raised on that point during the revolution. In subsequent revolutions taking place in Europe, there was no issue of nationality, but only as to the form of government; but America was fighting rather to organize a federation than to become a republic; and this fact is reflected in the title of the new republic now established in America. The independent government in America has never at any time referred to itself as a republic officially, although it actually was the pioneer among republics; it was merely referred to as an American federation―the United States of America.
This federation, which, as we have seen, was organized two years earlier as a mere complaint conference similar to the Stamp Act Congress, was actually a loose federation of independent governments which could truly be called states. In this respect it resembled the Penacook Federation, from which many of its characteristics were definitely and directly derived. Like the Penacook Federation, it originated as a wartime alliance, although the elements which composed it were too incongruous to be properly federated under Penacook standards of federability. Many of the units of this federation were fighting for diametrically opposed purposes, and had nothing in common except the common enemy. Thus, Massachusetts and New Hampshire were revolting against a landed aristocracy and the slave trade, while Virginia and the Carolinas were battling for these very types of social structure. As a more incongruous combination, Pennsylvania was one of the most important members of the federation, while the Lower Delaware Counties, which were waging war mainly to separate from Pennsylvania, had also separate representation in the same Congress, and, in fact, by virtue of the Declaration of Independence, gained their separation, organizing under the name of the State of Delaware. The standard of federability was nearer to the Iroquois group of requirements (common origin and language) than to the Penacook requisites of common social institutions and interests. According to the latter standard, there should have been at least two federations, one consisting of the Northern states, and the other of the Southern states; the two having for the time being a common enemy and therefore being able to help each other, but nevertheless fighting in opposed directions―therefore bound to come into constant conflict, and more so within the same federation than if separated. Conflicts between those two divisions have characterized the history of the United States at all periods, and might have been avoided in large measure if the Penacook standard of federability had been adopted rather than the Iroquois, thus avoiding the costly error of federating together the incompatible elements of North and South, which still show every sign of being truly separate nationalities.
When the Declaration of Independence created the United States of America as a federation, this federation consisted of one constituent government Massachusetts, which had been completely rebuilt from top to bottom, retaining no element of the former administration; the other constituents, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which had already sworn off British allegiance, but which had made no alteration whatever in internal government; one more constituent, Delaware, which had just cut itself loose from a neighboring state, and nine constituents in which there had been merely a revolt of the legislature against the governor and his administration. In addition, four unrecognized colonies, Vermont, Vandalia, Transylvania, and Watauga, were outside the federation trying to become members.
The direct descent of this federation from the Iroquois and Penacook and other red federations has already been traced. In the first place, the first United States federation was, in its inception, a revival of the Albany Congress of 1754 (or at least so intended), which, in its turn, had been directly suggested and guided by the Iroquois; on the other hand, it was a legitimate successor to the Stamp Act Congress, which was in itself a continuation of the Congress of rebel provinces in 1690, which derived from the New England Confederation, modelled largely on the Penacook Federation. The title, United States, was in itself a fairly good translation of the name Dakota (allied tribes), applied to the red federation of the upper Mississippi Valley. To follow the precedent of the Iroquois and Penacook Federations, the Continental Congress considered it necessary to draw up in documentary form a statement of the functions, powers, and organization of the federate administration, and to that end appointed a committee to draw up a constitution. This constitution was intended to express the form of federated government, in the same way as the world's first federation, that of the Iroquois, had done; but it differed from the Iroquois constitution in that the Iroquois Federation (likewise the Penacook) was formed by the treaty which served as a constitution, whereas, in the case of the Continental Congress, it was the federate organization which was formed first, and which drew up its own constitution. Despite this difference, in spite of the fact that the United States took form before any constitution creating a federation was drawn up, the constitution was regarded as the Iroquois and Penacook tribes regarded theirs, as a treaty between the governments which were constituent units of the federation.
The Declaration of Independence was a declaration of the independence of each individual state of the thirteen; it did not state that America was an independent nation, but that the states were free and independent states. All matters of ordinary law and administration were state matters; in fact, the individual States fulfilled every function expected of a nation in Europe; the Continental Congress, the federate portion of the organization, was merely conducting the concerted action of fighting the revolution, and even that was done mainly with the co-operation of the individual States. The Congress was, at the beginning of the United States, not so much a national government as a council of war, but formed on a permanent instead of a temporary basis. Delegates to the Continental Congress were elected annually by the State governments, who could recall their delegates at will; and the Congress was the supreme power in the federal organization. There was no single person who could be considered the head of the organization; the Continental Congress had no ruler or executive authority, but merely a presiding officer (President), whom the outside world considered a rebel ruler, as witness the British derision of "King Hancock," a misunderstanding similar to the Puritans' misunderstanding of the Penacook Federation when they called the Bashaba Metacom "King Phillip." The President of the Continental Congress was not the head of a government, but the presiding officer of a council, who, as the presiding officer, was properly called a President; but, on the basis of that precedent, the chief executive authority of republics has ever since been given the title of President, in all parts of the world.
Thus was created a type of organization new to the world of white men, although common among the reds―a federated republic. The First Republic of the United States, was not the same as the present government of United States. The First Republic, the one created by the American Federation, was a short-lived one, lasting but thirteen years, and then being overthrown. Nevertheless, it was this First Republic which issued the Declaration of Independence, and which published to the world the ideas of the rights of the people.