Declaration of Independence—Enumeration of Charges

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    In the lecture on the Declaration of Independence, you describe the historical reality of many of the charges levied against King George III including the claims that “he ha[d] dissolved Representative Houses,” “[was] transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries,” “[taken] away our Charters, abolish[ed] our most valuable Laws, and alter[ed] fundamentally the Forms of our Governments,” ” impos[ed] Taxes on us without our Consent,” and taken other various actions. In addition to those you mention, it seems obvious to what Jefferson et al. were referring when they made other charges, such as “[keeping] among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.” However, others seem less obvious. To what actions was Jefferson referring when he made some of the more obscure charges, for instance, that the King had “excited domestic insurrections …and ha[d] endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages”?


    “Domestic insurrections” was code for “slave insurrections,” and that charge referred to Governor Lord Dunmore’s proclamation in Virginia calling on slaves of rebel masters to come join the British army. Most people don’t realize that the Declaration of Independence justifies the break with King George partly by reference to his offer of freedom to some of Virginia’s slaves.

    For the charge concerning Indians, Pauline Maier in AMERICAN SCRIPTURE calls attention to the use of Indians against patriots in Canada. Maier attempts to explain what each of the charges meant — and finds that some of the charges cannot be explained.


    Do we know what people (especially those who passed the declaration) at the time thought about these charges that cannot be explained?


    No, we don’t. Various attempts have been made to explain, but without any success. Again, consult Maier’s AMERICAN SCRIPTURE, far the best book on the topic.

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