Truthfulness of the Declaration

Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)
  • Author
  • #21371

    Here’s something interesting from Carl Lotus Becker:

    “The ostensible purpose of the Declaration was, therefore, to lay before the world the causes which impelled the colonies to separate from Great Britain. We do in fact find, in the Declaration, a list or catalogue of acts, attributed to the king of Great Britain, and alleged to have been done by him with the deliberate purpose of establishing over the colonies “an absolute tyranny.” These “causes” which the Declaration sets forth are not quite the same as those which a careful student of history, seeking the antecedents of the Revolution, would set forth. The reason is that the framers of the Declaration were not writing history, but making it. They were seeking to convince the world that they were justified in doing what they had done; and so their statement of “causes” is not the bare record of what the king had done, but rather a presentation of his acts in general terms, and in the form of an indictment intended to clear the colonists of all responsibility and to throw all the blame on the king. From whatever causes, the colonists were in rebellion against established and long recognized political authority. The Declaration was not primarily concerned with the causes of this rebellion; its primary purpose was to present those causes in such a way as to furnish a moral and legal justification for that rebellion. The Declaration was essentially an attempt to prove that rebellion was not the proper word for what they were doing.”

    — The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas by Carl Lotus Becker

    His reasoning and the context he gives all make fine sense but I’m wondering specifically what he meant when he said the “causes” listed aren’t the same as what the careful student of history would list.

    Do you suppose his meaning is limited to what you mentioned in episode 11 — that some of these acts weren’t committed by The King per se?

    Or do you suppose he meant the list itself isn’t a very accurate one? Are any of the items on the list of grievances simply bogus? Would a more historically precise list include other things/events that were motivating the continental congress?


    Yes, it’s certainly true that George III hadn’t personally committed/been responsible for some of the acts with which the Declaration charges him. British response to the Declaration generally was to find the list of allegations against him either risible or bewildering. The reason he was named rather than Parliament or a past king is that the colonists had long since agreed Parliament was, as Jefferson said in “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” “foreign to our constitutions and unknown to our laws” (or some such), and so what remained was to accuse the king of having wantonly violated colonists’ rights.

    Of course, his August 1775 proclamation that the colonies were in rebellion, thus the complaining colonists were beyond his royal protection, satisfied many waverers that the tie to George III had to be severed.

Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.