In the spring and early summer of 1776, war with Britain looked more and
more likely. There had already been battles, but many of the leaders of the
colonies felt that reconciliation with the Crown was still possible. But
things deteriorated rapidly. King George sent Hessian troops to America, a
move that particularly incensed some. The stalemate at Concord and rebel
victories in Massachusetts and along Lake Champlain further emboldened those
who sought not reconciliation but independence.
Henry Lee was no stranger to colonial efforts at government. He had been
appointed to be a justice of the peace in 1757 and was also elected to the
House of Burgesses in 1757, a post he held for over 25 years. He was a strong
believer in colonial independence and helped create the committees that met
before the Continental Congresses were convened. According to Thomas
the Virginia delegation had been instructed by the people of Virginia to move
the question of independence. Richard Henry Lee wrote the short resolution that
started an unstoppable train in motion.
In the resolution's three sentences, three major points were outlined.
First, that the colonies should unite in a demand for independence from
Britain. Second, that the new united colonies should seek to secure alliances
with foreign powers. Third, that the united colonies should cement their unity
of action in unity of government, forming a "plan of confederation."
Lee introduced his resolution on June 7, 1776. It was tabled for a day,
then debated on June 8. Many arguments against the resolution were raised.
They included: That some colonies' delegations had not been given authority to
vote on such a move; that some colonies were not "ripe to bid adieu" to
Britain; that it was too soon, even though reconciliation with Britain was
unlikely; that if any colonies decided not to agree to the resolution, great
harm could be done to the union, more than any possible foreign alliances could
make up for; that it would be better to solidify the union before any
declaration was made.
But arguments for the resolution were just as strong: That independence was
generally thought of as inevitable - the question was not if, but when; that
the colonies were already independent of Parliament, and the acts of the King,
in making war and sending troops to America, necessitated independence from
him; that some opposition in the colonies came from self-interest, and not from
a perspective of the people as a whole; and, perhaps of the most weight, that
the people themselves had demanded independence.
Further debate was clearly needed. According to Jefferson, the states that
were not yet convinced were close to being so, and so the matter was tabled
until July 1. In the meantime, a committee
met to draft a declaration, and over the course of the 1st through the 4th
of July, the resolution and the declaration were debated.
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and
independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British
Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great
Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for
forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective
Colonies for their consideration and approbation.