Our Favorite Quotations About the Declaration of Independence

Politics During the War (1775-1783)

July 3, 2024
by Editors Also by this Author

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We asked our contributors for their favorite quotation about the Declaration of Independence, by a person who was alive when it was announced.

David Price
John Haslet, officer in the Delaware Regiment: “I congratulate you, sir, on this important day, which restores to every American his birthright—a day which every freeman will record with gratitude, and the millions of posterity read with rapture.”

Richard Briles Moriarty
William Shippen, Continental Army physician: “I don’t wonder to see more of our Friends offended & full of resentment upon the Change who have heretofore been at ye head of affairs, in short have in many instances behaved as though they thought they had a sort of Fee simple in them and might dispose of all places of Honour and Profit as pleased them best now to be ousted or at least brought down to a level with their fellow citizens.”

Haimo Li
Benjamin Rush, physician and statesman, to John Adams in 1808: “I feel pain when I am reminded of my exertions in the cause of what we called liberty; and sometimes wish I could erase my name from the declaration of Independence. In Case of a rupture with Britain or France—what shall we fight for?—for our Constitution? I cannot meet with a man who loves it. It is considered as too weak, by an half of our Citizens, and too strong by the Other half.—Shall we rally round the standard of a popular Chief? Since the death of Washington there has been no such Centre of Union.”

Rick Gardiner, Jack Campbell
Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration, as remembered by Benjamin Rush in 1811: “The Silence & the gloom of the morning were interrupted I well recollect only for a moment by Col: Harrison of Virginia who said to Mr Gerry at the table, ‘I shall have a great advantage over you Mr: Gerry when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.’”

Daniel Wright
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, minister: “This has caused some thoughtful and far-seeing melancholici to be down in the mouth; on the other hand, it has caused some more sanguine miopes to exult and shout with joy. In fine videbitur cuius toni [At the end it will be seen/known by those who heard].”

C. Leon Harris
Robert Wilson, private soldier: “We passed the Altamaha [River] about the last of July 1776 I distinctly recollect that on reaching the far Bank of that River, a horseman made his appearance on the bank and manifested a wish to reach us, supposing him to be an express he was sent for and on reaching the Army he delivered to Gen’l Williamson dispatches containing the Declaration of Independance. Gen’l Williamson called upon Capt Lacey to open the dispatches, who done so and on discovering the contents Capt Lacy raised up both hands and exclaimed Thank God for this. He then read the Declaration to the officers who were about him. Gen’l Williamson wished it read to the Army to effect which the Army was formed in a Hollow Square, and to give Capt Lacey a better chance to be heard by the whole Army Gen’l Twiggs brought up a gentle horse and held the same while Capt Lacey stood up on the saddle and read the Declaration of Independance to the whole army at the conclusion of which there was much firing of arms and rejoicing.”

Gregory Urwin
Edmund Burke, British statesman: “A great revolution has happened—a revolution made, not by chopping and changing of power in any one of the existing states, but by the appearance of a new state, of a new species, in a new part of the globe.”

Tim Abbott
Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration: “The unpardonable fault of America now is the declaration of Independence. When our faults were less there were as hardly thought of. Our modest complaints were called presumption—our humble petitions dismissed with contempt—no lenient hand was held out—no friendly measures proposed to soothe the griefs we thought we suffered, and prevent the horrors that now surround us—independence was not the wish of America, but a hard and cruel necessity has forced us to this desperate determination—we trust in the justice of our cause, and leave to the God of battles the great event.”

John Knight
John Lind, Kings Councillor: “It is, in short, the most harmless piece of parchment that ever was sent forth into the world.”

Jude Pfister
Thomas Hutchinson, former royal governor of Massachusetts: “or in what sense all men are created equal; or how far life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness may be said to be unalienable; only I could wish to ask the Delegates of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, how their Constituents justify the depriving more than an hundred thousand Africans of their rights to liberty”

Jett Conner
John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration, in response to a charge that “the people were not ripe for a Declaration of Independence”: “In my judgment, sir, we are not only ripe but rotting.”

James Smith
Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration: “although the councils of America have taken a different course from my judgement and wishes, I think an individual that declines the service of his country because its Councils are not conformable to his ideas, makes but a bad subject; a good one will follow if he cannot lead.”

David Kindy
John Adams, signer of the Declaration: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Don N. Hagist
John Bowater, officer in the British Marines: “I wish’d to inclose your Lordship the New York Gazette but cou’d not prevail on the Gentleman who brought it away, to part with it. It contains the most Impudent Resolves of the Congress Iever saw pened—a full Declaration of Independence, and Coppies of all the Lying Paragraphs out of the London papers the Duke of Richmond & that Scoundrel Barre’s Speaches. We flatter our selves with the pleasing proscpect of seeing their Heads ornament Temple Barr when we Return, for they Certainly have led these poor wretches into their present unhappy situation.”

Dennis Ness
John Adlum, private soldier: “Early in the month of July we had information of the Declaration of Independence. It was declared in Philadelphia on the fourth day of July, and on the evening of the sixth. Two gentlemen (Captain Wade and a Dr. Young) with our member of Congress, James Smith, Esqr., arrived at York. Their object was to see how the good people of the town and country relished this step taken by Congress. The four militia companies of the town were called out to the Commons where they were in the habit of exercising. Exclusive of those companies there was perhaps about three or four hundred old men, women and boys, and the women appeared to take as much interest in this business as the men did. I do not believe that the majority, men and women, knew what independence meant. Captain Wade and Dr. Young each made a short speech on the occasion, and then the Declaration of Independence was read, when Mr. Smith made a speech explaining the nature of and the advantages that independence would be to us. When he finished his speech he threw up his hat and hurrahed for liberty and independence which was reiterated by the militia and men, and all the women and boys.”

Salina Baker
Thomas Hutchinson, former royal governor of Massachusetts: “The Congress has just issued a most infamous paper reciting a great number of pretended tyrannical deeds of the King.”

Steven Neill
James Thacher, Continental Army surgeon: “This highly important transaction of our Congress is the theme of every circle and topic of universal discussion, and it receives the sanction and approbation of a large majority of the community. When we reflect on the deranged condition of our army, the great deficiency of our resources, and the little prospect of foreign assistance, and at the same time contemplate the prodigious powers and resources of our enemy, we may view this measure of Congress as a prodigy. The history of the world cannot furnish an instance of fortitude and heroic magnanimity parallel to that displayed by the members, whose signatures are affixed to the declaration of American Independence. Their venerated names will ornament the brightest pages of American history, and be transmitted to the latest generations.”

Will Monk
John Dickinson, delegate from Pennsylvania: “I cannot agree with you that a declaration of independence at this time will promote the happiness of my country. Other good men think my reputation at least my popularity must inevitably be sacrificed by my obstinate heresy. I have been compelled to endure the fires of persecution.”

Benjamin Carp
Ambrose Serle, secretary to British Admiral Richard, Lord Howe: “The Congress have at length thought it convenient to throw off the Mask. Their Declaration of the 4th. of July, while it avows their Right to Independence, is founded upon such Reasons only, as prove that Independence to have been their Object from the Beginning. A more impudent, false and atrocious Proclamation was never fabricated by the Hands of Man. . . . ’Tis impossible to read this Paper . . . without Indignation at the low and scurrilous Pretences by wch they attempt to justify themselves.”

Greg Aaron
Anonymous contributor to The Scots Magazine: “All men are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right of life. How far they may be endowed with this unalienable right I do not yet say, but, sure I am, these gentry assume to themselves an unalienable right of talking nonsense.”

Sheilah Vance
Reverend Lemuel Haynes, free African American: “a Negro may Justly Challenge, and has an undeniable right to his Liberty: Consequently, the practice of Slave-keeping which so much abounds in this Land is illicit.”

Sherman Lohnes
Matthew Patten, New Hampshire resident, July 20, 1776: “I bought 4/ worth of things viz 2£ of tobacco a rub ball for my breeches and a Declaration of Independence”

Taylor Stoermer
Edmund Pendleton, Virginia statesman: “I am also obliged by your Original Declaration of Independence, which I find your brethren have treated as they did your Manifesto last summer, altered it much for the worse; their hopes of a Reconciliation might restrain them from plain truths then, but what could cramp them now?”

John Ferling
William Ellery, signer of the Declaration: “We have lived to see these Colonies shake of[f], or rather declare themselves independent of a State which they once gloried to call their Parent—I said declare themselves independent; for it is One Thing for Colonies to declare themselves independent, and another to establish themselves in Independency . . . The Events of War are uncertain. God send the Victory.”

Steven Park
Samuel Johnson, British author: “how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

Gene Procknow
Charles Lee, Continental Army officer: “Having weighed the arguments on both sides, I am clearly of opinion that we must (as we value the liberties of America, or even her existence) without a moments delay declare for Independence.”

Al Dickenson
Chief Justice John Jay, in a 1793 legal opinion: “The revolution, or rather the declaration of Independence, found the people already united for general purposes”

Jeff Dacus
John Adlum, private soldier: “on the morning of the seventh day of July, the four companies of the town militia was paraded, when the Declaration of Independence was read. Mr. Smith made a speech, as did Captain Wade and Dr. Young, pointing out the advantages that it would be of our country, etc. Mr. Smith made a short concluding speech and then threw up his hat and hurrahed for liberty and independence. The militia on parade and others attending followed their example.”

Timothy Symington
Thomas Hutchinson, former royal governor Massachusetts: “No precise, unequivocal terms of admission to the authority of Parliament in any case have ever been offered by any Assembly. A concession has only produced a further demand, and I verily believe if every thing had been granted short of absolute independence they would not have been contended, for this was the object from the beginning.”

 

 

One thought on “Our Favorite Quotations About the Declaration of Independence

  • Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was a German-born Lutheran minister and missionary who lived outside Philadelphia. He never served in the Continental Army, or even the militia, as far as I know. It was his son, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, also a minister, who doffed his clerical robes and became the colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment, eventually rising to become a brigadier general in Virginia’s Continental Line. The language in the quotation sounds like the elder Muhlenberg. I was glad to see it here.

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