Almost everyone knows Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But did you know he also wrote a Declaration of Arms?
A year prior to Congress’ adoption and ratification of the Declaration of Independence, the members were signing a declaration to pick up arms against the mother country. And Jefferson was again the primary author.
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was just 33 years old, the youngest member of Congress. He penned the Declaration of Arms when he was just 32 years old.
Jefferson’s eloquence in written expression was apparent to John Adams, who later described him this way in 1822: “Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about, remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive upon committees and in conversation – not even Samuel Adams was more so – that he soon seized upon my heart …”
The History Channel explained how on July 6, 1775, just a single day after our founders issued their Olive Branch Petition to King George III, Congress gave just reason for “the causes and necessity of their taking up arms.” In it, they wrote they would rather “die free men rather than live as slaves.”
Four months earlier in April 1775, patriot resistance and the “shot that was heard around the world” fired off in Lexington and Concord. Now, it was time for our founders and Congress to square off against the king himself, so they initiated the Declaration of Arms.
Its official and lengthier name is: “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in Congress at Philadelphia, Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms.” It was primarily the work of Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson – the former wrote a first draft and the latter the final draft.
It is fascinating how the 1775 Declaration of Arms begins in much the same way as 1776 Declaration of Independence, noting how human life and our inalienable rights are from God, and no man has the right to dismiss or usurp them.
Listen to how Jefferson began this other self-evident truth: “If it was possible for men, who exercise their reason to believe, that the divine Author of our existence intended a part of the human race to hold an absolute property in, and an unbounded power over others, marked out by his infinite goodness and wisdom, as the objects of a legal domination never rightfully resistible, however severe and oppressive, the inhabitants of these colonies might at least require from the parliament of Great-Britain some evidence, that this dreadful authority over them, has been granted to that body. But a reverence for our Creator, principles of humanity, and the dictates of common sense, must convince all those 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 Declaration of Arms then goes on to say that the patriots labored in vain to negotiate peacefully with the crown, though they would not give up continuing to try and do so.
“Fruitless were all the entreaties, arguments, and eloquence of an illustrious band of the most distinguished peers, and commoners, who nobly and strenuously asserted the justice of our cause, to stay, or even to mitigate the heedless fury with which these accumulated and unexampled outrages were hurried on.”
Initially, inhabitants of Boston showed compliance in “having deposited their arms with their own magistrate,” but it only led to the detainment of “the greatest part of the inhabitants in the town.”
The consequences were dire: “By this perfidy wives are separated from their husbands, children from their parents, the aged and the sick from their relations and friends, who wish to attend and comfort them; and those who have been used to live in plenty and even elegance, are reduced to deplorable distress.”
So, because of the “oppressive measures,” “several threatening expressions,” “killings … hostilities,” “butchering of our countryman,” “our ships and vessels are seized; the necessary supplies of provisions are intercepted, and … spread destruction and devastation” by the crown upon the “United Colonies,” the “indignation of the Americans was roused.”
From this point onward, the Declaration of Arms follows Jefferson’s solo draft: “We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. – The latter is our choice. – We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. – Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.”
These words are almost poetic in their passion: “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, had been previously exercised in warlike operation, and possessed of the means of defending ourselves. With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath 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 one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live slaves.”
Jefferson concludes: “In our own native land, in defense of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it – for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.”
And therein lies the foundations of our American independence and later Second Amendment rights.
Happy Birthday, America! God has certainly shed His grace on thee!