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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VIII. American Political Writing, 1760–1789

§ 12. A Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms

Sweeping as Paine’s success was, the course of events had nevertheless prepared the way. In February, 1775, Lord North had startled the House of Commons by introducing and passing a conciliatory resolution; but the offer, unsatisfactory less because of its terms than because of want of confidence in the ministry and the king, had been effectually prejudiced by the passage, in March and April, of bills restraining the trade of the colonies to Great Britain and the British West Indies, and by further provisions for the prosecution of the war. It was on the first of the restraining bills, that relating to New England, that Burke made his great speech on conciliation. In June came the battle of Bunker Hill and the appointment of Washington as commander-in-chief. On 6 July Congress adopted a Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, the joint work of Dickinson and Jefferson, and one of the greatest of the state papers of the Revolution. Still protesting that “we have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states,” the declaration reviewed, vigorously but with dignity, the course of recent events, protested in the name of liberty against a policy that would enslave the colonies, and proclaimed solemnly the intention of fighting until freedom was assured.

  • In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it—for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.
  • Two days later (8 July) a last petition to the king once more protested loyalty and devotion, and prayed the interposition of the crown to bring about reconciliation. At the end of the month, however, in an eleborate report drawn by Jefferson, Lord North’s offer of conciliation was emphatically, almost contemptuously, rejected. In August a royal proclamation declared the colonies in rebellion. Franklin, meantime, had quietly slipped out of England and returned to America, where he was at once elected to Congress. He had withstood to the last the encroachments of parliamentary authority in England, and was now to witness the passing of royal authority in America. With the rejection of petitions on the one side and of compromise on the other, Paine could well urge that the time had come to act.