The injustice of England has driven us to arms; and, blinded to her own interest, she has obstinately persisted, till independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth to it, and it is ours. Why then should we defer the declaration? Is any man so weak as now to hope for a reconciliation with England, which shall leave either safety to the country and its liberties, or security to his own life and his own honor! Are not you, sir, who sit in that chair, is not he, our venerable colleague, near you, are you not both already the proscribed and pre-destined objects of punishment and of vengeance? Cut off from all hope of royal clemency, what are you, what can you be, while the power of England remains, but outlaws ?
If we postpone independence, do we mean to carry on, or to give up, the war? Do we mean to submit, and consent that we shall be ground to powder, and our country and its rights trodden down in the dust? I know we do not mean to submit. We NEVER shall submit ! Do we intend to violate that most solemn obligation ever entered into by men, that plighting, before God, of our sacred honor to Washington, when, putting him forth to incur the dangers of war, as well as the political hazards of the times, we promise to adhere to him in every extremity with our fortunes and lives? I know there is not a man here, who would not rather see a general conflagration sweep over the land, or an earthquake sink it, than one jot or tittle of that plighted faith fall to the ground. For myself, having twelve months ago, in this place, moved you that George Washington be appointed commander of the forces raised, or to be raised, for the defense of American liberty; may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I hesitate or waver in the support I give him.
The war, then, must go on. We must fight it through. And if the war must go on, why put off the Declaration of Independence? That measure will strengthen us. It will give us character abroad. Nations will then treat with us, which they never can do while we acknowledge ourselves subjects in arms against our sovereign. Nay, I maintain that England herself will sooner treat for peace with us on the footing of independence, than consent, by repealing her acts, to acknowledge that her whole conduct toward us has been a course of injustice and oppression. Her pride will be less wounded by submitting to that course of things, which now predestinates our independence, than by yielding the points in controversy to her rebellious subjects. The former, she would regard as the result of fortune; the latter, she would feel as her own deep disgrace. Why, then, do we not change this from a civil to a national war? And since we must fight it through, why not pull ourselves in a state to enjoy all the benefits of victory, if we gain the victory.
If we fail, it can be no worse for us. But we shall not fail. The cause will raise up armies; the cause will create navies. The people–the people, if we are true to them, will carry us, and will carry themselves, gloriously through this struggle. I care not how fickle other people have been found. I know the people of these colonies; and I know their resistance to British aggression is deep and settled in their hearts, and can not be eradicated. Sir, the Declaration of Independence will inspire the people with increased courage. Instead of a long and bloody war for the restoration of privileges, for redress of grievances, for chartered immunities, held under a British king, set before them the glorious object of entire independence, and it will breathe into them anew the spirit of life.
Read this declaration at the head of the army; every sword will be drawn, and the solemn vow uttered to maintain it, or perish on the bed of honor. Publish it from the pulpit; religion will approve it, and the love of religious liberty will cling around it, resolved to stand with it or fall with it. Send it to the public halls; proclaim it there; let them see it who saw their brothers and their sons fall on the field of Bunker Hill and in the streets of Lexington and Concord, and the very walls will cry out in its support.
Sir, I know the uncertainty of human affairs, but I see—I see clearly through this day’s business. You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to see the time this declaration shall be made good. We may die; die colonists; die slaves; die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold. Be it so: be it so. If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready at the appointed hour of sacrifice, come when that hour may. But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a FREE country.
But whatever may be our fate, be assured–be assured that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both. Through the thick gloom of the present I see the brightness of the future as the sun in heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires, and illuminations. On its annual return they will shed tears, –copious, gushing tears; not of subjection and slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude, and of joy.
Sir, before God I believe the hour is come. My judgment approves the measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I began, that, live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. It is my living sentiment, and, by the blessing of God, it shall by my dying sentiment; independence now and INDEPENDENCE FOREVER.
DEFINITIONS.– 1. Reconciliation: renewal of friendship. 2. Colleague: an associate in some civil office. 3. Proscribed: doomed to destruction, put out of the protection of the law. 4. Predestined: decreed beforehand. 5. Clemency: mercy, indulgence. 6. Tittle: a small particle, a jot. 7. Controversy: dispute, debate. 8. Eradicated: rooted out. Redress, deliverance from wrong, injury, or oppression. 9. Chartered: secured by an instrument in writing from a king or other proper authority. 10. Immunity:freedom from any duty, tax, imposition, etc. 11. Compensate: make amends for.
NOTES.– Mr. Webster, in a speech upon the life and character of John Adams, imagines some one opposed to the Declaration of Independence to have stated his fears and objections before Congress while deliberating on that subject. He then supposes Mr. Adams to have replied in the language above.
1. The quotation is from “Hamlet,” Act V, Scene 2.
You, sir, who sit in that chair. This was addressed to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Our venerable colleague refers to Samuel Adams. After the battles of Concord and Lexington, Governor Gage offered pardon to all the rebels who would lay down their arms, excepting Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
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