Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms

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The Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms is a Resolution adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 6, 1775, which explains why the Thirteen Colonies had taken up arms in what had become the American Revolutionary War. The final draft of the Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by John Dickinson.[1]


The Declaration describes what colonists viewed as the effort of the British Parliament to extend its jurisdiction into the colonies following the Seven Years' War. Objectionable policies listed in the Declaration include taxation without representation, extended use of vice admiralty courts, the several Coercive Acts, and the Declaratory Act. The Declaration describes how the colonists had, for ten years, repeatedly petitioned for the redress of their grievances, only to have their pleas ignored or rejected. Even though British troops have been sent to enforce these unconstitutional acts, the Declaration insists that the colonists do not yet seek independence from the mother country. They have taken up arms "in defence of the Freedom that is our Birthright and which we ever enjoyed until the late Violation of it", and will "lay them down when Hostilities shall cease on the part of the Aggressors". The very first sentence of the declaration does not include a condemnation of slavery.[2]

An early draft, Jefferson's Fair Copy for the Committee, 26 June-6 July 1775, accused the King of Britain of waging a "cruel war against human nature" for the capture and trade of slaves of "a distant people who never offended him" and violated the "most sacred rights of life & liberty". It characterized slavery as an "assemblage of horrors", and censured the King for "piratical warfare" and for protecting "a market where MEN should be bought & sold".[3] In 1821, Jefferson wrote in his autobiography about the removal of these passages on slavery from the final version:

The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with still haunted the minds of many. For this reason, those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offense. The clause, too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under these censures, for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.[4]


In the 19th century, the authorship of the Declaration was disputed. In a collection of his works first published in 1801, John Dickinson took credit for writing the Declaration. This claim went unchallenged by Thomas Jefferson until many years later, when Jefferson was nearly 80 years old. In his autobiography, Jefferson claimed that he wrote the first draft, but Dickinson objected that it was too radical, and so Congress allowed Dickinson to write a more moderate version, keeping only the last four-and-a-half paragraphs of Jefferson's draft. Jefferson's version of events was accepted by historians for many years. In 1950, Julian P. Boyd, the editor of Jefferson's papers, examined the extant drafts and determined that Jefferson's memory was faulty and that Dickinson claimed too much credit for the final text.

According to Boyd, an initial draft was reportedly written by John Rutledge, a member of a committee of five appointed to create the Declaration. Rutledge's draft was not accepted and does not survive. Jefferson and Dickinson were then added to the committee. Jefferson was appointed to write a draft; how much he drew upon the lost Rutledge draft, if at all, is unknown. Jefferson then apparently submitted his draft to Dickinson, who suggested some changes, which Jefferson, for the most part, decided not to use. The result was that Dickinson rewrote the Declaration, keeping some passages written by Jefferson. Contrary to Jefferson's recollection in his old age, Dickinson's version was not less radical; according to Boyd, in some respects Dickinson's draft was more blunt. The bold statement near the end was written by Dickinson: "Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable." The disagreement in 1775 between Dickinson and Jefferson appears to have been primarily a matter of style, not content.


  1. ^ Boyd, Julian P., ed. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 1. Princeton University Press, 1950. Includes two drafts by Jefferson, one by Dickinson, and the version adopted by Congress.
  2. ^ Jaffa, Harry V. (April 18, 2008). "God Bless America". Writings: Claremont Review of Books. The Claremont Institute. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2008. In its first sentence, the Second Continental Congress affirmed without equivocation that the idea of the ownership of some human beings by other human beings was an utter absurdity, and that to think otherwise was incompatible with reason or revelation. Thus from the outset—a year before the Declaration of Independence—the American people were committed to the antislavery cause, and to the inseparability of personal freedom and free government. The American people knew from the outset that the cause of their own freedom and that of the slaves was inseparable. This would become the message that Abraham Lincoln would bring to the American people, and to the world, for all time.
  3. ^ Jefferson, Thomas. Jefferson's Fair Copy for the Committee, 26 June-6 July 1775 The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, volume 1, 1760-1776. Princeton University Press, 1950, Pages 199-204.
  4. ^ Jefferson, Thomas, Paul L. Ford, and George H. Putnam. Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1790: Together with a Summary of the Chief Events in Jefferson's Life. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1914. Print.

Further reading

  • Boyd, Julian P. "The Disputed Authorship of the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, 1775." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 74 (1950), 51–73.
  • Hayes, Kevin J. The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson. Oxford University Press, 2008.

External links

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