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Second Continental Congress, "Declaration of the Causes of the Necessity of Taking Up Arms," (1775)

By the time the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, fighting had already taken place at Lexington and Concord. In this document, the Congress explains its reasons for resorting to violence against the British, and the conditions under which they would be willing to put down their arms. As you read, see if you can pinpoint how this document differs, in tone and in purpose, from previous petitions to the Crown. By July, 1775, how do the colonists perceive themselves and their relationship with Great Britain?  

A reverence for our great Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all who reflect upon the subject, that government was instituted to promote the welfare of mankind, and ought to be administered for the attainment of that end. The legislature of Great Britain, however, stimulated by an inordinate passion for power, not only unjustifiable, but which they know to be peculiarly reprobated by the very constitution of that kingdom, and departure of success in any mode of contest, where regard should be had to truth, law, or right, have at length, deserting those, attempted to affect their cruel and impolitic purpose of enslaving those colonies by violence, and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last appeal from Reason to Arms. Yet, however blinded that assembly may be, by their intemperate rage for unlimited domination, so to slight justice and the opinion of mankind, we esteem ourselves bound, by obligations of respect to the rest of the world, to make known the justice of our cause.

Our forefathers, inhabitants of the island of Great Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom. At the expense of their blood, at the hazard of their fortunes, without the least charge to the country from which they removed, by unceasing labour, and an unconquerable spirit, they effected settlements in the distant and inhospitable wilds of America, then filled with numerous warlike nations of barbarians. Societies or governments, vested with perfect legislatures, were formed under charters from the crown, and an harmonious intercourse was established between the colonies and the kingdom from which they derived their origin. The mutual  benefits of this of this union became so extraordinary, as to excite astonishment. It is universally confessed, that the amazing increase of the wealth, strength, and navigation of the realm, arose from this source, and the minister, who so wisely and successfully directed the measures of Great Britain in the late war, publicly declared, that these colonies enabled her to triumph over her enemies...

The uninterrupted tenor of their peaceable and respectful behavior from the beginning of colonization, their dutiful, zealous, and useful services during the war, though so recently and amply acknowledged in the most honorable manner by the late king, his Majesty, and by Parliament, could not save them from the mediated innovations...

They have undertaken to give and grant our money without our consent, though we have ever exercised an exclusive right to dispose of our own property; statutes have been passed for extending the jurisdiction of courts of Admiralty beyond their ancient limits; for depriving us of the accustomed and inestimable privilege of trial by jury, in cases affecting both life and property; for suspending the legislature of one of the colonies... for quartering soldiers upon the colonists in times of peace. It has also been resolved in Parliament, that colonists charged with certain offenses, shall be transported to England to be tried.

But why should we enumerate our injuries in detail? By one statute it is declared that Parliament can, of right make laws to bind us IN ALL CASES WHATSOEVER. What is to defend us against so enormous, so unlimited a power? Not a single man of those who assume it, is chosen by us, or is subject to our control or influence... We saw the misery to which such despotism would reduce us. We for ten years incessantly and ineffectually besieged the throne as supplicants; we reasoned, we remonstrated with Parliament, in the most mild and decent language. But administration... sent over fleets and armies to enforce these oppressive measures. The indignation of the Americans was roused, it is true; but it was the indignation of a virtuous, loyal, and affectionate people... We have pursued every temperate, every respectable measure; we have even proceeded to break off our commercial intercourse with our fellow subjects, as the last peaceable admonition, that our attachment to no nation on earth should supplant our attachment to liberty. This, we flattered ourselves... how vain was this hope of finding moderation in our enemies...

Fruitless were all the entreaties, arguments, and eloquence of an illustrious band of the  most distinguished peers, who nobly and strenuously asserted the justice of our cause, to mitigate the heedless fury with which these accumulated and unexpected outrages were hurried on...

Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the Divine favour towards us, that his Providence would not permit us to be called into this severe controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength... With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare that, exerting the utmost energy of our powers, with our beneficent Creator had graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with our one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live like slaves.

Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow-subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve this Union which has so long and happily subsisted between us, and, which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us to that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offense... We shall lay down [our arms] when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before...  

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