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1765 1

AFTER the passage of the Stamp Act in March, 1765, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, on the motion of James Otis, sent a circular letter to the other colonies, proposing that a congress be held in New York “to consider of a general and united, dutiful, loyal, and humble representation of their condition to his Majesty and to the Parliament, and to implore relief.” The Congress met the next October, delegates from nine colonies being present. The following Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which had been drafted by John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, was adopted. It formed the first utterance of any considerable body of American opinion on the issues which were soon to separate the colonists from their mother country.


The members of this congress, sincerely devoted, with the warm

est sentiments of affection and duty to his Majesty's person and government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the Protestant succession, and with minds deeply impressed by a sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British colonies on this continent; having considered, as maturely as time will permit, the circumstances of said colonies, esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations of our humble opinions, respecting the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labor by reason of several late acts of Parliament.

I. That his Majesty's subjects in these colonies owe the same allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to that august body, the Parliament of Great Britain.

1 The Writings of John Dickinson, vol. i, pp. 183–187. Edited by P. L. Ford. Philadelphia, 1895 (Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, vol. xiv).

II. That his Majesty's liege subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.

III. That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no tax be imposed upon them but with their own consent, given personally, or by their respresentatives.

IV. That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain.

V. That the only representatives of the people of these colonies are the persons chosen therein by themselves; and that no taxes ever have been or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.

VI. That all supplies to the Crown being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution for the people of Great Britain to grant to his Majesty the property of the co onies.

VII. That trials by jury are the inherent and inva'uable right of every British subject in these colonies.

VIII. That the late act of Parliament, entitled, “An act for granting certain stamp duties and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America,” etc., by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies, and the sa d act and several other acts, by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.

IX. That the duties imposed by several late acts of Parliament, from the peculiar circumstances of these colonies, will be extremely burdensome and grievous, and, from the scarcity of specie, the payment of them absolutely impracticable.

X. That [as] the profits of the trade of these colonies ultimately center in Great Britain, to pay for the manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all supplies granted there to the Crown.

XI. That the restrictions imposed by several late acts of Parliament, on the trade of these colonies, will render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain.

XII. That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse with Great Britain mutually affectionate and advantageous.

XIII. That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies to petition the king or either house of Parliament.

Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor, by a loyal and dutiful address to his Majesty, and humble applications to both houses of Parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other act of Parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of other acts for the restriction of American commerce.


A CONVENTION which met at Williamsburg in May, 1776, not only framed a complete constitution for Virginia, but also adopted a separate Declaration (or Bill) of Rights, drafted by George Mason. The document should be compared, on the one side, with the British Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement, and, on the other side, with the Declaration of Independence and the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere else, perhaps, can be found so admirable an exposition of the American theory of government.


A Declaration of Rights made by the representatives of the good

people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention, which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.

I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

II. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.

III. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and that, when any government shall be found

1 B. P. Poore, The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States, part ii, pp. 1908-1909. Second Edition. Washington, 1878.

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inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.

IV. That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendable, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.

V. That the legislative and executive powers of the State should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating [in] the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.

VI. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses, without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good.

VII. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.

VIII. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.

IX. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

X. That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or

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