Just what did “The Declaration” Declare?

Here in the United States, it’s July 4th, a day we commemorate with fireworks, cook-outs, concerts, and speeches. So what exactly is it that we celebrate?
Nominally, today marks the 231st anniversary of revolutionary America formally declaring its separation from Great Britain. The primary author of the famous document was, of course, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson’s Monticello home, here in Charlottesville, has become a living educational memorial to Jefferson. I recently was honored to be a “Jefferson Fellow” at the adjoining Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, (ICJS) where scholars, in part, explore the ongoing legacy of Jefferson for our world today.
Despite the ready association of Jefferson with today’s date, do we understand what the core purpose of Jefferson’s Declaration was?
Easy, right? If so, and at the risk of turning this into NPR’s “wait, wait,… don’t tell me” quiz show, then let’s try this question: how did America’s famous Declaration begin? Was it:

a. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,…”
b. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
c. ” When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station….”
d. “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.”
e. “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

If you the reader are like the vast majority of Americans, you will be inclined to answer “b,” but sorry, that is the Declaration’s second paragraph, not the first.

Answer “e” is also incorrect; that’s the opening to the 1945 Vietnamese Declaration (among dozens of Declarations in world history that emulated America’s in one form or another.)
Answer “d” also is incorrect, as this is Article 1 from the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man.
With answer “a” of course being the preamble to the 1789 US Constitution, then you surely knew the answer to be “c.”

Lest we get too confident in our history IQ, how many of us can readily recall just what the 1776 American Declaration… well… “declared?”
Even if you had a solid American history education, don’t feel too bad if you’re a bit confused by the question. Assuming you went to an American school that still taught “civics” in some form, your lessons on “The Declaration” likely included much contemplation of the meaning, the “codes,” of Jefferson’s second paragraph. Just what fundamental “truths” did the new American nation “hold” to be “self-evident?” And what about all that seeming hypocrisy regarding all persons (“men”) being created equal, even as so many of them were then in tolerated bondage?
Until quite recently, very little in the vast scholarship on Jefferson and the Declaration addresses the “simple” question of just what was the Declaration’s purpose? The curious state of such learned discourse is neatly illustrated in a short 1999 text, edited by Joseph Ellis and entitled, “What Did the Declaration Declare?” This book provides splendid examples of the great scholarly debates over the last half of the 20th Century about how the Declaration was written, about the merits or exaggerations in the list of grievances against George III, and just which intellectual current influenced Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration’s second paragraph. Was it John Locke? Or was it the Scottish Enlightenment? Or was it some Saxon mythology that only Jefferson could fathom?
Whatever Jefferson’s intellectual parentage, Abraham Lincoln’s 1859 tribute to Jefferson’s “second paragraph” still nicely sidesteps such inquiry:

“All honor to Jefferson… who had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”

Yet from Lincoln to the present, few scholars or pundits have provided much substantive comment about the Declaration’s first sentence, which in full reads:

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Parenthetically, my own work focuses on just what Jefferson and his colleagues meant by a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” (I have much to publish on this rarely-considered clause, and yes, it has a rather compelling contemporary ring…. Imagine — American leaders once caring about world opinion.)
I am pleased though to acknowledge that the two-century-old intellectual logjam blocking inquiry into the Declaration’s first sentence has been nicely broken by Harvard’s David Armitage, an historian and “English School” international relations scholar.
In a brilliant 2002 William & Mary Quarterly article and in a slender new book, entitled “The Declaration of Independence: A Global History,” Armitage contends directly that the fundamental purpose of the American Declaration was to…
(drum roll…. turn the page…. whoosh, poof, boom, zing, crackle,sizzle…, bang!….)

declare independence.

Well, fancy that.
Never mind the scholars; perhaps you knew that too?
So why did the Continental Congress find it so important to declare the American colonies to be free and independent? Not just for “domestic political morale purposes,” as one scholar contends, but because they realized that they could not on their own defeat the mightiest power at the time with their limited resources. They needed friends and allies in Europe, or at least their continued neutrality. Declaring independence was deemed the key to unlock such aid.
As David Armitage neatly states the case, the Declaration as a document of rights and abstract truths would have “been a document without a future had it failed in its central purpose of declaring independence.”
In Jefferson’s autobiographical notes about the debates over whether or not to declare independence, Jefferson recounts at length about how Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson was among those Delegates plausibly worried that a formal declaration of independence would render the new states less likely to attain foreign aid while becoming more vulnerable to partition by predatory European states.
Americans then were well acquainted with the fate of Pasquale Paoli, the rebel who led the Corsicans to freedom from the Genovese in 1755, only to be bitterly re-conquered by the French in 1769. (I was raised near Paoli, Pennsylvania — named after the Corsican, and famous for the “Sons of Liberty.”)
Yet John Adams and others flipped Dickinson’s fears on their head by arguing that it was the absence of an independence declaration that prevented European powers from coming to the aid of the Americans. As Jefferson recalled (among other things),

“…a declaration of Independence alone could render it consistent with European delicacy for European powers to treat with us, or even to receive an Ambassador from us: That till this (without a Declaration) they would not receive our vessels into their ports, nor acknowledge the adjudications of our courts of admiralty to be legitimate, in cases of capture of British vessels….”

Given recent events, it may seem hard to believe that Americans once had such high regard for international legal norms; yet such concerns were central to turning the 1776 argument in favor of “declaring independence.”
Armitage well demonstrates that America’s rebels were quite attuned to the international norms of the latter 18th Century via the famous treatise, The Law of Nations, a legal handbook first published in 1758 in French by the Swiss jurist Emer de Vattel and available in multiple languages almost immediately.
Benjamin Franklin, whom “realists” today see as their model, was so impressed by Vattel that he made sure the Continental Congress had several copies at its disposal, as of 1775. Vattel’s work was important to the American rebels, because it made independence fundamental to the definition of statehood. For any state to make its entrance into the great society, “it is enough that it should be truly sovereign and independent…” that it freely governs itself.
This international legal argument was hardly an obscure concept in the colonies. Indeed, the connection between declaring independence and foreign assistance was well understood in 1776. Thomas Paine’s sensational best-selling pamphlet, Common Sense, which appeared in early 1776 and helped turned colonial sentiment squarely in favor of independence, closed with a bold argument that, “nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for Independence.” Foreign alliances couldn’t be secured without it. As Paine argued,

“Why would a foreign nation support the colonies if their support was only to achieve reconciliation with Britain?… [U]ntil a “Manifesto” is published and dispatched to foreign Courts, … [the] custom of all Courts is against us, and will be so, until by an Independence, we take rank with other Nations.”

I’m just scratching a fascinating subject here. I highly recommend a reading of David Armitage’s book, especially the delightfully packed first two chapters. If your local library doesn’t have it, encourage them to get it! The third chapter reviews the “history” of how the American Declaration of Independence has been emulated in the world, and nearly half the book’s pages are an appendix of such Declarations. Have fun with the examples.
Oddly enough, most Americans today celebrate the 4th of July without ever much contemplating America’s own revolutionary tradition and its legacy for the world, much less why the Declaration of Independence itself was such a fateful decision.
If we appreciated our own Declaration legacy more, perhaps we might recognize and deal more fruitfully with revolutionary impulses for “independence” elsewhere. To be sure, other current and aspiring nations may well admire the freedoms most of us still cherish. Yet whether Chinese, Russian, Iranian, French, Algerian, Vietnamese, South African, Palestinian, Kurdish, etc., they may be just as inspired to imitate our declaration for “independence” — to have the freedom to develop according to their own cultures and values.
Addendum: Nearly 49 years after writing it, Jefferson reflected on the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. He recalled that:

“an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writings, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”

(From Letter to Henry Lee, May 25, 1825. Jefferson, and John Adams, died a year later, on July 4th, 1826, on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.)

14 thoughts on “Just what did “The Declaration” Declare?”

  1. I celebrated the 4th by making signs and going to a small impeachment rally – and the local police joined us! gave me some ideas for new driving routes in town too…
    pictures at my blog http://dancewater.blogspot.com
    Happy Independence Day, everyone!

  2. Since the shameful and disgusting run-up to America’s criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq, I have often thought of Jefferson’s “decent respect for the opinions of mankind” while lamenting how frequently America’s political leaders go before the United Nations and other world venues for peace and arrogantly demonstrate our complete and utter lack of it.

  3. As I understand the new research, one immediate aim of the Declaration was to secure active French support, without which the Revolution would have gone nowhere, and without which the English, at their leisure, would have reconquered the place – as was attempted in 1812.

  4. Art is indeed the chemistry of life, the ultimate test of free people-Thus, will you all join me in a very Jeffersonian project-establishing a Lebanese Historic First-A Lebanese National Museum of Art? I envision this as a global project-and have written several prime ministers about this as well-might JWN dedicate a spot on its website to this campaign?

  5. We the People of the United States……
    “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
    We the People of the United States we did Wounded Knee we had Medals of (dis) Honor…. till today we send our “bravery” solders to establish the democracy and show the people of Iraq and Afghanistan the freedom that our history tells centuries ago of our mission we hold today
    A Massacre Survivor Speaks…

  6. Say Salah, not sure what “wounded-knee” has to do with my July 4th post about the original purpose of the Declaration. (I have more interest in the subject of Native Americans, esp. the Leni Lenape, than you might guess, and I once studied Indian history, in Oklahoma, with a half-Cherokee professor…. In retrospect, that class may have well opened my mind for better Middle East studies — and conflicted narratives of the dispossessed)
    Anyway, I had hoped to stir a little “fun” discussion w/ my rendition of David Armitage’s Declaration book… Alas.
    After counting to ten, my sense of humor is back.
    Since you brought up Native Americans, there indeed is considerable new research emerging on TJ’s (Jefferson’s) at times contradictory disposition towards them. On the one hand, he could publicly espouse curiosity and even praise towards “Indians” and their cultures. At other times, such as in a private 1780 letter (as Governor) to Genrl George Rogers Clarke, he seemed to be contemplating their “extermination.” (or at least those who had sided with the Brits against the Virginians….)
    Last Tuesday, I heard an excellent presentation by Frank Cogliano @ ICJS regarding his exploration of Jefferson’s concept of “Empire of Liberty.” According to Cogliano, TJ saw no contradiction in the juxtaposition of the terms “liberty” and “empire.” For the American “liberty” experiment to survive, Jefferson felt the new democratic Republic had to expand — and that more fellow republics had to emerge….
    Little wonder that certain neoconservative authors (see Michael Oren, Frederick Kagan, Joseph Wheelan, etc.) have lately been writing at length about Jefferson – once known to historians as the “half-way pacifist.” It seems to me the neocons wish to make Jefferson one of their own — an American Founding icon willing to use force for the aggressive expansion of “freedom.” (or worse, to re-interpret his “wars” with the “Barbary” pirates as America’s first “war on terror”) Both interpretations are quite overdrawn, not to mention rather self-serving “cover” for neoconservatives today.
    Cogliano gamely is endeavoring to explore Jefferson’s “Empire for Freedom” notion w/n his own era and context, by assessing the the diverse (and at times contradictory) means TJ favored for its expansion — diplomacy, force, & emigration.
    The third category might cause latter-day neoconservative/Israeli re-interpreters of Jefferson some embarrassment… By “emigration,” Cogliano is referring to the intentional use of “settlers” (e.g. “pioneers”) to expand America’s presence into neighboring territories…. to (if you will) “change facts.” And the “natives” were deemed at best irrelevant, or a small, unproductive populace amid a vast “unpopulated” wilderness, or at worst, as “uncivilized savages,” who used mayhem (e.g., scalping, depredations to women, etc.) to spread fear …. (terror)
    Sound familiar?

  7. Cogliano, by the way, happens to be author of the best available historiography of works about Jefferson – published last fall by the University of Virginia Press. (Cogliano is based, ironically, at the University of Edinburgh.)
    Alas, because the scholarship of TJ is so vast, many of the sections of FG’s synthesis are rather “thin.” (especially the foreign policy section — not surprisingly)
    I’m even more a fan of Cogliano’s fascinating 2001 examination of the treatment of American maritime “prisoners of war” by Britain during the Revolution. (At one point, they were deemed something akin to “noncombatants” and detained off-shore in prison ships — precisely so as to avoid habeas corpus actions on their behalf by British citizens with humanitarian concerns)
    Talk about insights with relevance for today, one Gonzales and Ho won’t want to hear!…. :-} (But that’s for another article.)

  8. I am surprised that there would be some debate over the fact that the main and immediate purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to declare independence. That purpose of the Declaration is quite evident from the text. The final paragraph contains about as thunderous and conclusive a “therefore” as you are ever going to find in a formal statement. It is quite clear that the authors regard all the statements, argumentation and lists of offenses in the preceding paragraph as setting the stage for the bold declaration made in the final paragraph:
    We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
    And yes, a big part of the purpose of declaring independence was to attract foreign support. Yet I have my doubts that the colonists expected that foreign aid to be forthcoming simply because once they had formally declared independence, they would have complied with international legal norms. First, I don’t believe any mention is made in the Declaration about the Law of Nations. Mention is made of “Laws of Nature”, but emerging conceptions of international law are not invoked.
    Nor would it have mattered much, for I suspect very few foreign governments would have been willing to endorse the revolutionary doctrine of government advanced in the declaration: that governments are instituted by people for their common benefit, and that the same people who instituted the government have the right to throw it off and replace it with another. To the extent European powers recognized international legal norms, I hardly think that one such established norms was the right of a people to declare independence, and by doing so have their independence recognized. It seems far-fetched to suppose that the colonists imagined that foreign capitals would greet their declaration by saying “Oh well, the Americans have now complied with the necessary international legal norms and made a formal declaration, so I guess they are now truly independent.”
    I think the most important foreign and domestic aim in declaring independence was to make a show of resolve, and to cross a Rubicon in such a definitive and public way that there could be no turning back. No foreign state would risk coming to the assistance of the colonies so long as the colonies themselves were undecided as to which way they were going to go. What if the French joined the fight against the British alongside the colonies here in America, and then the colonies backed down, or declared that they still regarded themselves as British subjects – and even began attacking the French? The French would be left holding the bag, and stuck in a costly quagmire and fool’s errand. The French didn’t need much of a legal warrant to fight the British, but they did need to know that the colonies were in the fight with them.
    The Declaration had an equally important domestic purpose, and must have had a profound effect on many colonists who were either opposed to independence, or sitting on the fence. Even if one opposed independence, it became much less prudent to resist independence once so many of the colonies’ major figures had declared that independence. Many would have concluded that the line had been crossed, that it was now too late to turn back, and that further resistance was a dangerous and untenable position. Once the mutineers declare they are taking the ship, you are either with them or against them. And if you live among them in the crew’s quarters, it is best to be with them.
    By the way, it is worth noting that the colonists did not declare that they were collectively a free and independent state, but that each colony was a free and independent state. Thus they simultaneously declared their independence from the British crown and from each other.

  9. Interesting points. This oped by Michael Rose in Thursday’s NYT seems particularly apposite.
    I have long been interested in the sources of the legitimacy that governments has (or claims, or seeks). We have commonly been told, since the days of that hypocritical old slavetrader John Locke, that governments gain their legitimacy from “the consent of the governed.” But they also, crucially, seek and sometimes gain it from the recognition they are able to win from other governments. So those other governments have considerable ability to thwart even the will of the people concerned. (Q.v., US and Israeli policy toward Palestine; or numerous other examples including Kurds, Kosovars, anti-colonial struggles in general, etc etc.)
    As Dan K’s comment indicates, these two forms of “legitimacy”, internal and external, are usually sought together.
    But couldn’t we actually make a very good case that if all the people then on the north American continent (or even, just those within the bounds of the 13 “colonies”– which notably was a self-defined but otherwise completely arbitrary boundary) were counted equally, then the supporters of the “independence” project would not have had a majority? Their only claim to “representativity” was based on their absolutely negating any claim the native Americans or the enslaved Africans on the continent might have had to any form of personhood.
    From one perspective, the whole “Independence” business can be seen merely as a form of UDI enacted by a bunch of pampered settler colonials who– having benefited mightily from the free land grants etc made by the British government and protected until then from the understandable ire of the indigenous (and much more legitimate) claimants to the same land only by the force of British guns– then decided they needn’t even pay taxes to that government but could make off with the colonial spoils all on their own. One saw exactly that process with Ian Smith’s form of settlerist UDI in “Rhodesia”, and can see some trends toward it among those pampered Israeli settlers on the West Bank who from time to time talk about “seceding” from their Israeli state mother-cow and establishing their own independent “State of Judea and Samaria”.
    Settler colonialism is always inherently rapacious and violent. The settlers can only think of themselves as “progressive” or “democrats” or whatever if they totally deny the equal humanity of the indigenes and thereby feel able to ignore alike the claims the indigenes have to their own ancestral lands, any claims the indigenes might raise to having even an “equal” voice in determining the fate of these lands, and the horrendous harm that the settler project always anyway inflicts on the lives and livelihoods of the indigenes.
    American settler colonialism shared all these all same troubling qualities with settler colonialism everywhere. You could say that that makes the claims of Americans that their settler/UDI movement was uniquely “progressive” or “democratic” or whatever more hypocritical than the positions espoused by most other settler/UDI movements…

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Dan. I’m especially glad you emphasized the Declaration’s last paragraph…. That too is part of David Armitage’s argument — that the core purpose of the Declaration was not an abstract declaration of rights, nor a delineation of grievances, but a core pronouncement of a break for “independence.”
    Your latter point about the Declaration having a domestic audience is indeed true, (and I don’t deny that — though I’d emphasize that Paine’s little pamphlet had done much to sway American opinion in favor of independence in the early months of 1776 — the situation was “ripe” for the Declartion. The DI didn’t emerge in a vacuum, hardly….)
    But far too many scholars have contended that this indeed was its primary audience — at home. Take Pauline Maier, known to many as a NYT colunmnist. In her aclaimed Sacred Scripture, Making the Declaration of Independence, (on p.. 130-31) she contends that the DI was “desinged first and foremost for domestic consumption.”
    Like you (and the standard realist cast on the DI), Maier presumes that the colonists had no hope of winning European support based on the merits of their cause — rebellion ostensibly for “democracy” against a Monarchical empire.
    As such, as one famous Jefferson biographer noted to me last fall, most DI historians have for generations tended to assume that the opening DI reference to “the opinions of mankind” and “a candid world” were mere rhetorical flourish,” meant for buttressing domestic opinion….. (upon seeing my work in progress, he’s now moving towards the view that Jefferson was “far too serious a man” to have not meant what he wrote….)
    I of course appreciate (as realists have long focused upon) that the American rebels were shrewd in the arts of realpolitik, in being aware of European rivalries – and the resentments therein that they could manipulate to their advantage. (thus the standard, but misleading emphasis on Franklin as America’s first “realist.”)
    Walter Isaacson got especially caught up in the realist crowning of Franklin, in his biography last year, and in a History Channel special on the Declaration a few years ago. Therein, Isaacson was so sure of himself that he claimed that the “proof” that the Americans had no interest or ability in winning over European opinion is in the fact that the DI was “banned” from being published in France.
    I have no idea what Isaacson’s source on this claim is – if anybody reading knows, please let me know.
    From every scholar and source I’ve checked, Isaacson is quite wrong on this point. To the contrary, the DI was freely and widely disseminated in Europe. The French foreign ministry was so keen to drum up domestic opinion in favor of the American cause that even it published the full text of the American Declaration in a widely read journal (secretly financed by the French gov’t).
    I could go on at length (and I hope to do so soon formally) regarding the extensive efforts by the Americans to drum up “international legitimacy” for their cause across Europe — including in Britain. This was a conscious effort, and America had many serious sympathisers for its cause, if not its end or chosen means, ranging from Edmund Burke to Voltaire to even Catherine (sic) in Russia.
    In short, the American’s conducted their rebellion not just in the realms of “power politics” but also in the contest of ideas….. far more than is realized in standard texts.
    (continued in next note)

  11. I should emphasize that in my post comment I’m straying rather far from Armitage’s focus and into my own work. Yet again, I do encourage a wide reading of the Armitage book, especially its intro and first two chapters. Harvard University Press provides us with a rather large 28 page sample to read on line:
    Note especially the opening to chapter 1 (page 16 in the .pdf version; 28 in the actual text)
    Among the cover reviews for the book, it is particularly fascinating to see that of Pauline Maier:
    When Armitage was here at ICJS in April, I made a point of congratulating him for receiving the endorsement from someone whose previous esteemed scholarship stands at least partially rather starkly at odds with the key theme advanced by Armitage — that the Declaration first and foremost had an intended international purpose, and that it was done so cognizant of the prevailing international “norms” of the day….

  12. Dan, I wanted to focus a bit more on the influence of international legal norms circa 1776. You wrote:
    “Yet I have my doubts that the colonists expected that foreign aid to be forthcoming simply because once they had formally declared independence, they would have complied with international legal norms. First, I don’t believe any mention is made in the Declaration about the Law of Nations. Mention is made of “Laws of Nature”, but emerging conceptions of international law are not invoked.”
    You then question if European governments would be much interested in the revolutionary doctrine or statement of rights (as in DI paragraph #2). Fair enough, as matters of governance, and I’ve already addressed this latter point. Again, I’m of the view that many European elites indeed were interested in Americans’ ideals (and debates over them) at the time, beginning w/ the French Philosophes and the English “radicals.” (and the interest was more broad than often supposed) Of course, such views were not, in themselves, able to carry the day then in the halls of power, but they were not irrelevant either….
    Yet as to the realm of international norms (e.g. “droit de gens”) and their influence on the Declaration, the point is not that the DI text did or did not explicitly reference international law, but that the precise debate over whether to declare for independence or not hinged indeed in large part of considerations of norms of international conduct at the time…. (and that’s why Franklin, based then in France, was so impressed by Vattel — and sought to have Vattel’s treatise widely read among his fellow Colonial elites….)
    Odd as it may sound, and to put rather crudely, it was accepted that European powers could treat and ally openly with an “equal,” at least on paper — but not with a rebel movement (whatever its particular cause). That’s what TJ meant by “European delicacy” as a key factor in the debate. That is, if we declare our “independency,” then it will be easier for the French (even if in large part out of their own rivalry w/ Britain) to supply the American “rebels” openly.
    Thomas Paine was also quite aware of this European disposition against supporting rebels of any stripe, and that’s why he at length made the popular case for declaring for independence, as a necessary pre-requisite for attaining international support.
    Last thought, in my own work, I suggest that all too much of the 70 years of scholarship on the “foreign policy of the American revolution” has been under the heavy influence of 20th Century “realist discourse” — (including via Morgethau & his sponsorship of Stourzh) The venerable “realist” approach of course emphasizes contests of material “interests” as more consequential over battles of ideals and the “power of norms.”
    Armitage, from within the “English school,” avoids that realist straight-jacket and gives us what to me is a much fuller picture of what the Declaration’s prime purpose, at the time of its endorsement, actually was….

  13. I should add for those in or visiting Charlottesville that the University of Virginia now has its own excellent (and free to the public) exhibit related to the Declaration of Independence. It’s billed as
    “the most comprehensive collection of letters, documents, and early printings relating to the Declaration and its Signers.”
    Donated by Albert H. Small, visitors can find the collection at the new Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
    Worth the trip. (give yourself time to browse and reflect)

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