On the Fourth of July, my family continued a long-standing American tradition; we celebrated our country’s Independence Day by reading aloud the document we honor that day: The Declaration of Independence. I believe that looking carefully at this document helps us understand our history and the purpose for which this nation was founded.
I plan to take the remaining weeks in July to discuss the Declaration part-by-part. Last week, I talked about the Preamble and the Declaration of Rights. This week, I will discuss the next part, the Bill of Indictment.
Declaration Part II: The Bill of Indictment
The Declaration of Rights ended with the claim that the King of Great Britain had done many acts to undermine the rights of his people, something that no government is allowed to do. The Bill of Indictment is the list of “injuries and usurpations” that show that the king was trying to establish a tyranny.
With that in mind, I’ve broken the eighteen accusations into sections. The numbering is my own, but I am linking to an excellent website, founding.com, which gives historical context for most of the grievances.
From inefficient to tyrannical
With these charges, the colonists showed that the king was not only incapable of ruling them as he should (charges 1 and 2), but he also stopped the colonial governments from doing their job (charges 3 through 7) and made laws which directly increase his tyranny (charges 8 through 12). Altogether, they show that the king was intent on forming the government so that the people had no recourse to a legislative or judicial branch; no one could have authority over the king.
(2) He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
(3) He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
(4) He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
(6) He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
(7) He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
(12) He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
An important note in understanding this document: the American Colonies were not subject to the British Parliament. Each charter was granted by the king, stating that either (1) he ruled them directly, or (2) they were directly ruled by another man (e.g. Maryland was ruled by the Lords Baltimore), or (3) the colonists were allowed to rule themselves. In each case they had their own governing bodies. That is why all these are charges against the king, not the British Parliament, and that the only reference to parliament is here, the thirteenth grievance.
(13) He has combined with others [the British Parliament] to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
(a) For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
(b) For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
(c) For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
(d) For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
(e) For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
(f) For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
(g) For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
(h) For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
(i) For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
The last section by itself seems worded to convince anyone that something had to be done.
(16) He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
(17) He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
(18) He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
This Bill of Indictment is a good insight into the basis for the government the Founding Fathers gave us in the Constitution. Thanks for reading! Next time we’ll look at the final two sections: the Appeal Against Grievances and the Statement of Independence.