The 27th Grievance of the Declaration of Independence

Critical Thinking

April 26, 2022
by James M. Deitch Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored 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.”[1]

As with the 25th grievance in the Declaration of Independence, in the 27th grievance Thomas Jefferson carefully constructed a foundation of fear, based on no true account of events regarding enslaved people, and more folklore and myth concerning the native inhabitants of the land they coveted. He appealed to the base fear that lingered and would have been present even if American colonists were satisfied with the government under which they lived. Considering the inequities and injustice under which they suffered, it was a reasonable fear that enslaved people would at some time shake off their shackles and rise against their oppressors. It was further understood that “Indian Savages” had grievances for which they would seek satisfaction separate from any conflict that the colonists had with their government. Any anger and dissatisfaction on the part of enslaved people and Indians were localized and personal, not a conflict with a far-off government they knew little to nothing of.

The fear of domestic insurrections in the colonies gets glossed over in the discussion of the Declaration. These words were not expanded upon in the narrative of the grievance. This is likely due to the extensive argument and discussion given on the subject at the time, both by the Americans and the British. The founding fathers were not oblivious to the hypocrisy of their arguments for liberty and their treatment of their fellow man. Their consideration of the subject was measured in terms of pros and cons. The British approached the subject in much the same manner. Both sides considered the immediacy of the enslaveds’ contributions to the cause and, if given their freedom, the long-term impact that such freedom might cause. In the end, both sides employed the threat to their campaign of propaganda without any meaningful execution of plans to support one side or the other through freedom given for military service. Nor was either party inclined to chance the uncertainty that promoting such insurrection might cause.

Yet all things were considered. In 1775 the enslaved population was estimated to be over 500,000. Joseph Galloway would revise this estimate upwards to 600,000 in 1778.[2] The British looked upon this as a potential weapon. John Adams recorded in his diary that if the British were to land 1,000 well-provisioned troops in the south, and proclaimed freedom for enslaved people that joined them, they might realize a force multiplier of “twenty thousand Negroes . . . in a fortnight.”[3] In June 1775, Gov. Josiah Martin of North Carolina protested to his superiors in London a report being circulated that he had “formed a design of arming the Negroes and proclaiming freedom” for those who joined the fight against the rebellion. Despite those protests, just such an call for insurrection of enslaved people was made in Pitt County on July 8, 1775. This was quickly put down.[4]

There was an underlying truth to the Declaration’s grievance. Yet it was the threat of such an insurrection, more likely to occur in the southern colonies where a greater enslaved population resided, that kindled the fires of fear and lent credence to the grievance. Propaganda, being the widespread dissemination of an idea or thought, was useful in inciting action on the part of the disaffected. The best and most effective application of propaganda is when it is based on some foundation of truth. And so we find throughout the war many examples where the 27th grievance could be supported, but only in retrospect rather than true, substantive historical significance at the time the declaration was conceived.

The combination of “excited” used as a word of action, and “domestic insurrections amongst us,” inspires much debate. One must conclude that those who read those words would take them at face value, believing that without one the other could not occur. Most importantly, both the enslaved, who were not specifically identified in the grievance, and Indian Savages, had their rightfully-held grievances which would not be solved by any actions the Americans intended to undertake. Further, the grievances these two categories of people had were not with the British but with the Americans themselves; given time the insurrection the Americans feared was bound to happen regardless of any participation by the British.

The raw fact is that the protagonists for independence were not in the majority. The patriot leaders were faced with the challenge of indirectly controlling the actions of the population by controlling their attitudes and playing on their base fears. Nowhere but in a democracy must leaders marshal opinions when their position on various matters is not commonly and widely held. The control that the patriots exercised over the population was weak. Therefore, the use of propaganda was a primary necessity. Historian Philip Davidson describes it as a prerequisite to demanding action.[5] Josiah Quincy understood that emotion, not reason, determined action. The creators of the Declaration needed to focus on crowd psychology and stoke it into a mob rule.[6]

While the English amongst them might have gradually and ultimately arrived at the conclusion that separation from England was wholly necessary, the steady influx of non-English people made things more difficult. Indifferent to British policy and certainly having no sense of loyalty to the Crown, these Europeans created a divergence in institutions, customs, language, and interests.[7] The question of slavery was complicated by the fact that the Quakers in particular were opposed to such practice. Despite such protestations, all Europeans, it could be agreed, would be regarded by both enslaved and savages alike as equal and complicit in any real or perceived damages incurred. The Revolution was at best the work of an aggressive minority.[8] Samuel Adams would harp, “All are not dead; and where there is a spark of patriotic fire, we will enkindle it.”[9] Yet his cousin John Adams along with Josiah Quincy warned of the “fatal effects of the policy of standing armies.”[10] They issued this warning at the annual commemoration of the Boston Massacre, and the trial in which John Adams and Quincy successfully defended the British soldiers that committed the atrocity. Here lies the problem with the Declaration of Independence. It serves to outline the several grievances of the Americans, yet introduces hypocrisy in its body and opens itself to challenge when filtered through logic and fact. Still, none of the grievances were without merit and at least some modicum of truth.

The deconstruction of the Declaration of Independence should require the reader to separate the grievances into two categories; those that addressed specific policy and governance, and those that manipulated and provoked the base fears and prejudices of the population. The 27th grievance falls into the latter category. Yet, as has been previously stated, enough truth lay in the charges for it to be considered with merit. The broadsides and papers of the time exacerbated and proclaimed all such instances to be representative examples of the behavior of the whole of the British army and its proxies.

The list of grievances contained within the declaration would constitute the proof Congress needed for separation from the British monarchy, and place it in universal terms that could be easily understood by an international audience. The use of language as a weapon was an art, useful in creating sympathy and support for the Patriot’s desire for a complete break with Great Britain and its King. It would conclude that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” Yet, the use of grievances as propaganda must be recognized for what it was and this acknowledgment requires further scrutiny. The declaration is fraught with hypocrisy and cannot be accepted blindly at face value lest it ignores atrocities carried out under the cover of several false or incomplete grievances contained within. Like the Hessians, the African slaves and the Native Indians were all pawns and victims in this revolution, and the words used in the grievances to identify them were nothing more than propaganda designed to capitalize on the personal fears of those who otherwise could not be bothered with the nuance and detail of taxes and representative government. They were more concerned about how any conflict with Britain might impact and impede their daily lives. In this respect, barbarous acts and fears of uprisings by those who were different than themselves were easier to understand as grievances and played their emotions rather than any ability to apply logic in such terms.

The Declaration of Independence did not strive to define and demand a new concept of liberty. Instead, it endeavored to achieve through the presentation of grievances, how promises of a previously defined and accepted concept of liberty had been diminished in the colonies. The vast majority of the grievances did not impact the population of the colonies equally. Jefferson initiated the understanding of a universal threat by warning readers and informing the King and Parliament, that George III had declare the American colonies out of his protection.  And since the colonies were understood to be without his protection, and were actually under attack by large armies of foreigners to further infringe on their liberties, they called out the King as being unworthy. In doing so the founding fathers took the bold step of indicating their own superior claim to liberty over enslaved and native people and marking the British as the enemies of liberty. In the end, the 27th grievance against the King should be seen as part of the greater palette of propaganda offered to the colonists, the final threat demanding action. In essence, Jefferson ended the Declaration of Independence with a clarion call, easily understood and equally demanding as a call to action. The Americans were under attack from outside and potentially from within. Their position would be that for their liberties to be preserved, others must be denied. For that reason alone, these writings deserve further scrutiny and continued discussion.


[1]The Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: July 4, 1776.

[2]Carl Berger, Broadsides and Bayonets: The Propaganda War of the American Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961), 84.

[3]John Adams, Life and Works(Boston: 1850), 428.

[4]William L. Saunders, ed. The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh. 1870), 20-24.

[5]Philip Davidson, Propaganda and the American Revolution 1763-1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941), xii-xiii.

[6]Edmund C. Burnett, Letters of Members of the Constitutional Congress (Washington, DC: The Carnegie institution of Washington, 1921-1936), 2:57. See also John Adams to Moses Gill, June 10, 1775,

[7]Davidson, Propaganda, xiii.


[9]Samuel Adams to James Warren, December 9, 1772, in “Warren-Adams Letters, being chiefly a correspondence among John Adams, Samuel adams, and James Warren,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), 1:14.

[10]Davidson, Propaganda, 8.


  • Thoughtful analysis of the Declaration of Independence and its use of propaganda. I would like to point out that the Declaration’s final language is not entirely Jefferson’s, an impression one might get while reading both articles. His original language was modified, sometimes substantially, in the final document. On the issue of enslaved people, for example, consider his original draft (source, Library of Congress):

    he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s [sic] most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Jett, I mention the fact that the final draft of the document was heavily influenced by Franklin and Adams (J.). Franklin was a master propagandist and very careful with his words. However, he was also inconsistent over the preceding decades in his attitudes towards race specifically. I touch on this in my interview with Brady Crytzer on the upcoming podcast.

      1. Jefferson’s anti-slavery clause was not opposed by Franklin, but by Georgian and Carolinian representatives to the Continental Congress.
        Jefferson’s point was that the King was “paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people [“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s [sic] most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither”], with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another [the colonists],” by “exciting those very people [the slaves] to rise in arms among us [Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation], and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them.”
        Basically, in the 27th grievance Jefferson asks what kind of King would introduce slavery in his kingdom and then incite the people he “captivated and carried in another hemisphere” against his subjects, upon whom he first “obtruded” the slaves.
        Jefferson does not express his views on race in the Declaration, nor does the document justify the enslavement of any human being. On the contrary, the “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” passage and the anti-slavery clause in the original draft of the document tell us that Jefferson believed that all humans were entitled to certain unalienable rights – such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness – regardless of their abilities and that he understood that slavery violated these unalienable rights. The race factor is not contemplated, as Jefferson expresses a universal principle, which applies to Europeans as well as Africans.
        Jefferson’s views on slavery and race are easily understandable in “Notes on the State of Virginia.” It’s clear that he, as well as other Founders, believed in racial supremacism, but it’s also clear that he was a strong opponent of slavery and that the unalienable rights were never intended for a delimited group of people.

        1. Thank you, Matteo. Your comments are not without merit and I concur specifically with your observations on Jefferson. That being said, Franklin meant to temper some language to ensure more universal acceptance of the message contained within the Declaration. There were moral and ethical conflicts in the Declaration to be grappled with and while the verbiage within the document may have been “cleansed” it remained in conflict with the words and actions of the leaders throughout the various colonies. Then, as now, the things that unite us stand in contrast to the things that divide us and it is only in times when we find common ground and universal concurrence that the country, whether the various colonies at the time or these United States today, rally behind a cause. Language, or propaganda as Berger and Davidson describe it in their works, becomes critical to swaying public opinion. So yes, in consideration of the sensitivities of certain colonies such as Carolina and Georgia, Franklin would oversee the tempering of some language in both the Declaration and Constitution, in favor of the more important matter at hand, which was to unify the colonies against a common cause.

          1. Thank you for replying James. What you are saying is correct, but you should have said it in the article as well for it to be complete.
            Instead, the way the article is written – especially for its conclusions – is provocative rather than explanatory, which is why I felt like leaving a comment.
            In my opinion Jefferson’s anti-slavery clause and your comment about the Founders putting differences (such as the one on slavery) aside to find common ground for the revolutionary cause are key missing pieces to the story.

  • Domestic insurrections would also be calling on the Tories to rise up against the local authorities and displace said governments, take up arms or carrying out sabotage.

    In the western part of Virginia(now West Virginia), the native Americans were indeed on the warpath in the Ohio River Valley but did not venture into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during the revolution due to mobilized militia.

    The Battle of Point Pleasant has been claimed to be the first battle of the revolutionary war. The tribes of the Seven Nations were defeated there. While the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore was involved in this action, the Virginia Militia from the Valley had been fighting that war for a generation.

    Anyone manning the frontier forts established by Col Washington in defense of Virginia knew first hand what was going on in those areas. Virginia militia men spent time at Fort Pitt on the western boundary of Pennsylvania where British Governor Henry Hamilton incited the native Americans to attack. This was known in the Continental Congress.

    Thomas Jefferson was more than aware of these incidents and his inclusion of the “savages” in his grievance is based on truth and is not propaganda or for inciting fear.

    1. Robert, thank you for your comments. While I concur with your assessment to a certain extent, my intent is to demonstrate that while the content of the grievance may be based in some foundation of truth, it was not the King or Parliament that was inciting such actions and the grievance in this respect is not properly placed with the King. The Declaration itself is a rather personal document. And it should be recognized that the 25th and the 27th grievances building on the foundation of the 23rd should be seen for what they are, universal grievances that impact all citizens/subjects regardless of standing in society. Your counterthoughts on this matter would make an excellent subject for a discussion panel. Thank you again.

  • “Thomas Jefferson carefully constructed a foundation of fear, based on no true account of events regarding enslaved people, and more folklore and myth concerning the native inhabitants of the land they coveted.” While it is true that Jefferson’s charges against the king are hyperbole, regarding enslaved Africans, his reference is undoubtably to Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation, later reiterated by Clinton, which freed tens of thousands of enslaved Africans who fled their patriot rebel masters and fought with the British. Dunmore’s encouragement of slave uprisings and his ‘Ethiopian Brigade’ frightened slaveholders and would hinder the colonists’ war effort, just as Lincoln’s similar proclamation did during the Civil War. Tens of thousands of enslaved people fought for and gained their freedom on the British side. They were relocated along with other loyalists to other parts of the empire after the war.

    1. Donald, thank you for your comments. I have a keen interest in Bahamian history, particularly the Exumas where my wife and I spend much time. The establishment of settlements there was set by fleeing Loyalists to your point. While my areas of focus are centered on the role of ethnic Germans in early American history, specifically during the American Revolution, the issue of race is a key element of the ongoing debate on the foundation of our country, specifically in the oversight of Franklin in the construct of the words and verbiage in the Declaration and the Constitution. I am currently working on a continuation of the series on the 23rd Grievance but based on your points I would like to revisit the second article in my series based on your input. Thank you.

  • Jefferson was certainly the author of the first draft of the Declaration (although some still dispute that). But by the time the document was approved on July 4, 1776, it had gone through enough changes that it might be said it was “written by committee.” It is well known that Jefferson was disappointed with the many edits to his written words. But up until the 4th, he was still incorporating changes to his work:

    “The draft of the Declaration was revised first by Adams and Franklin, and then by the full committee. A total of 47 alterations, including the insertion of three complete paragraphs, were made to the text before it was presented to Congress on June 28. After voting for independence on July 2, Congress continued to refine the document, making 39 additional revisions to the committee draft before its final adoption on the morning of July 4.”

    It is also true that after many years, Jefferson and Adams disputed how Jefferson was chosen to write the first draft, who wrote what changes in the earliest drafts, and other details. For an easily accessible review of the drafting, including the source of the quote above, and an important fragment of Jefferson’s original draft, see the Library of Congress,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *