The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO BEGINNINGS OF THE TRANSITION FROM COLONIES TO STATES

During the sessions of the Continental Congress in June, 1775, it was considered expedient to issue a declaration of the causes for taking up arms. Jefferson prepared a draft, but it met with such vehement objections from John Dickinson that the latter was requested to write a declaration suiting his own cautious views. He did so, and Congress, actuated by a desire not to move too fast for any considerable group of members, approved it almost without change. When this was done, Dickinson expressed his joy, adding: "There is but one word, Mr. President, in the paper which I disapprove, and that is the word 'Congress.'"1 Thereupon Benjamin Harrison lifted his tall, spare figure and replied: "There is but one word in the paper, Mr. President, of which I approve, and that is the word 'Congress.'" The division between the forces of radicalism and conservatism which this incident illustrates was as wide as the American Colonies in the years 1774-76. In every Province the patriot party was split into two wings, one wishing at first to make an unqualified, defiant assertion of American rights, and later to hasten the assertion of independence; the other eager at first to emphasize the hope for reconciliation with Great Britain, and later to delay the total break with the mother country. To the radical side belonged the Adamses, George Clinton, Joseph Reed, Patrick Henry, and Christopher Gadsden; to the conservative side equally sterling Americans like James Bowdoin, John Jay, Robert Morris, Edmund Pendleton, and John Rutledge.

Another division between somewhat different groups of radicals and conservatives was sharply defined upon domestic issues. When the time came to frame State constitutions, the conservatives in general wished for balanced and rather aristocratic forms; the radicals for a highly popular form--one in which the legislature, directly representing the people, would dominate the executive and judicial

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1
Jefferson Writings, Memorial Ed., I, 17.

-15-

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