Grievances of the United States Declaration of Independence

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United States Declaration of Independence (1776) United States Declaration of Independence.jpg
United States Declaration of Independence (1776)

The United States Declaration of Independence contains 27 grievances against the decisions and actions of British King George III. Historians have noted the similarities with John Locke's works and the context of the grievances. [1] Historical precedents such as the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689 had established the principle that the King was not to interfere with the Rights of Englishmen held by the people. In the view of the American colonies, the King had opposed the very purpose of government by opposing laws deemed necessary for the public good and by constantly meddling in the local affairs of the colonists. [1]

United States Declaration of Independence announcement by which the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and thus founded the United States

The United States Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The Declaration announced that the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain would regard themselves as thirteen independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule. With the Declaration, these new states took a collective first step toward forming the United States of America. The declaration was signed by representatives from New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

John Locke English philosopher and physician

John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "Father of Liberalism". Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Sir Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social contract theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.


Grievance 1

"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."


The Colonial assemblies passed various legislations governing their own commercial operations, creating colonial currencies, and concerning representatives in the imperial Parliament, but the King withheld approval. Secretary Conway informed the Americans that Parliament would not pursue legal action against colonists who had actively protested against the Stamp Acts, provided that the assemblies would pay for any public property which had been destroyed. In complying with this demand, the Assembly of Massachusetts thought that it would be "wholesome and necessary for the public good" to grant free pardon to all who had been engaged in the protests, and passed an act accordingly—but the King refused to ratify it. [2] Self government was at the heart of the Founding Fathers' concerns, and each time the King refused to ratify Colonial legislation, he intensified that concern. [3] [4] History professor Steven Pincus notes that the first grievance is "extremely important" because many of the colonies passed measures intended to slow down the pace of slavery. Any time that such laws were introduced by local assemblies, they "were routinely vetoed by the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State, and King George III." [5]

Founding Fathers of the United States Group of Americans who led the revolution against Great Britain

The Founding Fathers of the United States, were a group of leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain and built a Frame of Government for the new United States of America upon republican principles during the latter decades of the 18th century. Most Founding Fathers at one point considered themselves British subjects; but they came to understand themselves more as patriotic Americans who possessed a spirit distinct from that of their motherland. The group was composed of businessmen, philosophers, politicians, plantation owners and writers from a variety of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds.

Steven Pincus is the Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of British History at the University of Chicago, where he specializes in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British and European history.

Grievance 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."


This is an indictment of the King's appointed governors in the colonies who have refused to endorse laws conducive to the public good. For example, the Assembly of New York took measures in 1764 to conciliate the Six Nations and other Indian tribes. The motives of the Assembly were misconstrued, and the King was told[ by whom? ] that the colonies wished to make allies of the Indians to increase their military power and independence from the British crown. The King sent instructions to all his governors to refrain from such alliances and to suspend their operations until he approved them. He then "utterly neglected to attend to them." The Massachusetts Assembly passed a law in 1770 for taxing officers of the British government in that colony, but the King ordered the governor to withhold his assent. This was in violation of the colonial charter, and the people complained. [2]

"Neglect" is one of two reasons mentioned by Locke as a valid reason for dissolving government. [1]

Grievance 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."


Chapter 19 of Two Treatises of Government notes that, "when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will, in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed." Locke lists changing the legislature without the people's knowledge or consent as another situation which justifies dissolving a government. [1]

<i>Two Treatises of Government</i> work of political philosophy by John Locke

Two Treatises of Government is a work of political philosophy published anonymously in 1689 by John Locke. The First Treatise attacks patriarchalism in the form of sentence-by-sentence refutation of Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, while the Second Treatise outlines Locke's ideas for a more civilized society based on natural rights and contract theory.

Grievance 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."


On May 20, 1774, Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act which nullified the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 [6] and allowed governor Thomas Gage to dissolve the local provincial assembly and force them to meet in Salem. [7]

Massachusetts Government Act act of the Parliament of Great Britain, effectively abrogating the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, one of the causes of the American Revolution

The Massachusetts Government Act was passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, receiving royal assent on 20 May 1774. The act effectively abrogated the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and gave its royally-appointed governor wide-ranging powers. The colonists said it altered by parliamentary fiat the basic structure of colonial government. They vehemently opposed it and would not let it operate. It was a major step on the way to the start of the American Revolution in 1775.

Thomas Gage Thomas Gage, British military officer and last royal governor of Mass

General Thomas Gage was a British Army general officer and colonial official best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as British commander-in-chief in the early days of the American Revolution.

Salem, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Salem is a historic coastal city in Essex County, Massachusetts, located in the North Shore region. It was one of the most significant seaports in early American history.

Grievance 5

"He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people."


The Massachusetts Assembly issued a circular to other Assemblies in 1768 urging mutual co-operation in asserting the principle that Great Britain had no right to tax the colonists without their consent. The King then demanded that the Assembly rescind the resolutions expressed in the circular, and he ordered the governor to dissolve the Massachusetts Assembly immediately if they refused. Other assemblies were warned[ by whom? ] not to imitate Massachusetts, and the King dissolved any that refused to yield to their royally appointed governors. The Assemblies of Virginia and North Carolina were dissolved for denying the right of the King to tax the colonies or to extradite Americans to England to stand trial. Several assemblies discussed forming a general Congress with delegates from all the colonies in 1774, and the King dissolved nearly all those that entertained the idea. [2] Royal Governor Francis Fauquier dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses on May 31, 1765. [8] [ why? ]

Grievance 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."


The Assembly of New York refused to comply with the provisions of the Mutiny Act in 1766, so Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act 1767 which suspended the Assembly's legislative authority. [9] John Dickinson discusses the suspension of New York's assembly in Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania . [10]

The Assembly of Massachusetts was dissolved in July, 1768, and was not permitted to meet again until the last Wednesday of May, 1769; even then, they found a military guard surrounding their meeting location with cannons pointed directly at it. [2]

Grievance 7

"He has endeavored 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."


England sent secret agents to America soon after George III took the throne in order to report on the condition of the colonists. There was a large influx of German immigrants, and the King wanted to discourage such immigrations. Obstacles in the way of procuring lands, and otherwise, were put in the way of all emigrants, except from England, and the tendency of French Roman Catholics to settle in Maryland was also discouraged. The British government was concerned over the increasing power of the colonies and the widespread popularity of republican ideals among German immigrants. After the peace of 1763, few people settled west of the Alleghenies due to these restrictions, and immigration had almost ceased by the time of the revolution. [2]

Grievance 8

"He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers."


Parliament deprived the people of Massachusetts the right to elect their own judges in 1774. Instead, the King appointed all the colony's judges, and they were dependent on him for their salaries and subject to his directions—and those salaries came from taxes and duties on the colonists. The same act deprived the colonists of the benefit of trial by jury, and the "administration of justice" was obstructed. Other colonies expressed similar grievances concerning the courts of law. [2]

Grievance 9

"He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries."


Judges and royally appointed governors did not depend upon the colonists for their income; they drew their salaries from the King, and the American colonists saw that this led their officers to sympathize with Parliament but not with the colonies. The Colonial assemblies protested against these measures, leading to the formation of the Committees of correspondence in 1774. [11] [12]

When Chief Justice Oliver declared it to be his intention to receive his salary from the crown, [13] the Assembly proceeded to impeach him and petitioned Governor Thomas Hutchinson for his removal. [14] The governor refused compliance and great irritation ensued. [15]

Grievance 10

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."


After the passage of the Stamp Act, stamp distributors were appointed in every considerable town. In 1766 and 1767, acts for the collection of duties created "swarms of officers", all of whom received high salaries; and when in 1768, admiralty and vice admiralty courts were established on a new basis, an increase in the number of officers was made. The high salaries and extensive perquisites of all of these, were paid with the people's money, and thus "swarms of officers" "eat out their substance." [2]

Grievance 11

"He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures."


After the treaty of peace with France, in 1763, Great Britain left quite a large number of troops in America, and required the colonists to contribute to their support. There was no use for this standing army, except to repress the growing spirit of Republicanism among the colonists, and to enforce compliance with taxation laws. The presence of troops was always a cause of complaint; and when, finally, the colonists boldly opposed the unjust measures of the British government, armies were sent hither to awe the people into submission. It was one of those "standing armies" kept here "without the consent of the Legislature," against which the patriots at Lexington, and Concord, and Bunker Hill so manfully battled in 1775. [2]

Grievance 12

"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power."


General Gage, commander-in chief of the British forces in America, was appointed governor of Massachusetts in 1774; and to put the measures of the Boston Port Bill into execution, he encamped several regiments of soldiers upon Boston Common. The military there, and also in New York, was made independent of, and superior to, the civil power, and this, too, in a time of peace, before the Minute-men were organized. [2]

Grievance 13

"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:"


The "others" with whom the King is thus said to have combined were, of course, the British Parliament, the existence of which as a legally constituted body possessing authority over them the Americans thus refused even by implication to recognise. [16] This was because of the establishment of a Board of Trade, to act independent of colonial legislation through its creatures (resident commissioners of customs) in the enforcement of revenue laws. This was altogether foreign to the constitution of any of the colonies, and produced great indignation. The establishment of this power, and the remodeling of the admiralty courts so as to exclude trial by jury therein, in most cases rendered the government fully obnoxious to the charge in the text. The people felt their degradation under such petty tyranny, and resolved to spurn it. It was effectually done in Boston, and the government, after all its bluster, was obliged to recede. In 1774, the members of the council of Massachusetts (answering to our Senate), were, by a Parliamentary enactment, chosen by the king, to hold the office during his pleasure. Almost unlimited power was also given to the governor, and the people were indeed subjected to "a jurisdiction foreign to their constitution " by these creatures of royalty. [2]

Grievance 14

"For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:"


In 1774 seven hundred troops were landed in Boston, under cover of the cannons of British armed ships in the harbor; and early the following year, Parliament voted ten thousand men for the American service, for it saw the wave of rebellion rising high under the gale of indignation which unrighteous acts had spread over the land. The tragedies at Lexington and Concord soon followed, and at Bunker Hill the War for Independence was opened in earnest. [2]

Grievance 15

"For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:"


In 1768, two citizens of Annapolis, in Maryland, were murdered by some marines belonging to a British armed ship. The trial was a mockery of justice; and in the face of clear evidence against them, the criminals were acquitted. In the difficulties with the Regulators in North Carolina, in 1771, some of the soldiers who had shot down citizens when standing up in defence of their rights, were tried for murder and acquitted; while Governor Tryon mercilessly hung six prisoners, who were certainly entitled to the benefits of the laws of war, if his own soldiers were. [2]

Grievance 16

"For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:"


The navigation laws were always oppressive in character. In 1764, the British naval commanders having been clothed with the authority of custom-house officers, completely broke up a profitable trade which the colonists had long enjoyed with the Spanish and French West Indies, notwithstanding it was in violation of the old Navigation Act of 1660, which had been almost ineffectual. Finally, Lord North concluded to punish the refractory colonists of New England, by crippling their commerce with Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies. Fishing on the banks of Newfoundland was also prohibited, and thus, as far as Parliamentary enactments could accomplish it, their "trade with all parts of the world" was cut off. [2]

Grievance 17

"For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:"


In addition to the revenue taxes imposed from time to time and attempted to be collected by means of writs of assistance, the Stamp Act was passed, and duties upon paper, painters' colors, glass, tea, etc., were levied. This was a great bone of contention between the colonists and the imperial government. It was contention on the one hand for the great political truth that taxation and representation are inseparable, and a lust for power and the means for replenishing an exhausted treasury, on the other. The climax of this contention was the Revolution. [2]

Grievance 18

"For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:"


This was especially the case when commissioners of customs were concerned in the suit. After these functionaries were driven from Boston in 1768, an act was passed which placed violations of the revenue laws under the jurisdiction of the admiralty courts, where the offenders were tried by a creature of the crown, and were deprived "of the benefits of trial by jury." [2]

Grievance 19

"For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:"


On the fifteenth of April, 1774, Lord North introduced a bill in Parliament, entitled " A bill for the impartial administration of justice in the cases of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the laws, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England." This bill, known as the Administration of Justice Act, provided that in case any person indicted for murder in that province, or any other capital offence, or any indictment for riot, resistance of the magistrate, or impeding the revenue laws in the smallest degree, he might, at the option of the Governor, or, in his absence, of the Lieutenant Governor, be taken to another colony, or transported to Great Britain, for trial, a thousand leagues from his friends, and amidst his enemies.

The arguments used by Lord North in favor of the measure, had very little foundation in either truth or justice, and the bill met with violent opposition in parliament. The minister seemed to be actuated more by a spirit of retaliation, than by a conviction of the necessity of such a measure. "We must show the Americans," said he, ' that we will no longer sit quietly under their insults; and also, that even when roused, our measures are not cruel or vindictive, but necessary and efficacious." Colonel Barre, who, from the first commencement of troubles with America, was the fast friend of the colonists, denounced the bill in unmeasured terms, as big with misery, and pregnant with danger to the British Empire. "This," said he, "is indeed the most extraordinary resolution that was ever heard in the Parliament of England. It offers new encouragement to military insolence, already so insupportable. By this law, the Americans are deprived of a right which belongs to every human creature, that of demanding justice before a tribunal composed of impartial judges." [17]

The text of the bill contained the following:

In that case, it shall and may be lawful for the governor, or lieutenant-governor, to direct, with the advice and consent of the council, that the inquisition, indictment, or appeal, shall be tried in some other of his Majesty's colonies, or in Great Britain. [18]

Grievance 20

"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:"


The British ministry thought it prudent to take early steps to secure a footing in America so near the scene of inevitable rebellion as to allow them to breast, successfully, the gathering storm. With the passage of the Quebec Act, parliament invested a legislative council in Canada with all powers except levying of taxes. [19] This was a great stride toward that absolute military rule which bore sway there within eighteen months afterward. Giving up their political rights for doubtful religious privileges, made them willing slaves, and Canada remained a part of the British empire when its sister colonies rejoiced in freedom. [2]

Grievance 21

"For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:"


This is a reiteration of a charge already considered, and refers to the alteration of the Massachusetts charter, so as to make judges and other officers independent of the people, and subservient to the crown. The governor was empowered to remove and appoint all inferior judges, the attorney-generals, provost-marshals, and justices of the peace, and to appoint sheriffs independent of the council. As the sheriffs chose jurors, trial by jury might easily be made a mere mockery. The people had hitherto been allowed, by their charter, to select jurors; now the whole matter was placed in the hands of the creatures of government. [2]

Grievance 22

"For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever."


This, too, is another phase of the charge just considered. We have noticed the suppression of the Legislature of New York, and in several cases, the governors, after dissolving Colonial Assemblies, assumed the right to make proclamations stand in the place of statute law. Lord Dunmore assumed this right in 1775, and so did Sir James Wright of Georgia, and Lord William Campbell of South Carolina. They were driven from the country in consequence. [2]

Grievance 23

"He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."


In his message to Parliament early in 1775, the king declared the colonists to be in a state of open rebellion; and by sending armies hither to make war upon them, he really "abdicated government," by thus declaring them "out of his protection." Shortly after, the Prohibitory Act was passed by Parliament. In addition, he sanctioned the acts of governors in employing the Indians against his subjects, and himself bargained for the employment of German hirelings. And when, yielding to the pressure of popular will, his representatives (the royal governors) fled before the indignant people, he certainly "abdicated government." [2]

John Adams said of the Prohibitory act: "It throws thirteen colonies out of the royal protection, levels all distinctions, and makes us independent in spite of our supplications and entreaties ... It may be fortunate that the act of independency should come from the British Parliament rather than the American Congress." [20]

Grievance 24

"He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."


When naval commanders were clothed with the powers of custom house officers, they seized many American vessels; and after the affair at Lexington and Bunker Hill, British ships of war "plundered our seas" wherever an American vessel could be found. They also "ravaged our coasts and burnt our towns." Charlestown, Falmouth (now Portland, in Maine), and Norfolk were burnt, and Dunmore and others "ravaged our coasts," and "destroyed the lives of our people." And at the very time when this Declaration was being read to the assembled Congress, the shattered fleet of Sir Peter Parker was sailing northward, after an attack upon Charleston, South Carolina. [2] [21]

Grievance 25

"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."


The hire of Hessian Soldiers as mercenaries for use against the Thirteen Colonies, see the May 15th preamble. [22]

Grievance 26

"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."


An act of Parliament passed toward the close of December, 1775, authorized the capture of all American vessels, and also directed the treatment of the crews of armed vessels to be as slaves and not as prisoners of war. They were to be enrolled for "the service of his majesty" in Impressment and were thus compelled to fight for the crown, [23] [24] even against their own friends and countrymen. This act was loudly condemned on the floor of Parliament as unworthy of a Christian people, and "a refinement of cruelty unknown among savage nations." [2]

Grievance 27

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."


This was done in several instances, Dunmore was charged with a design to employ the Indians against the Virginians as early as 1774; and while ravaging the Virginia coast in 1775 and 1776, he endeavored to excite the slaves against their masters. He was also concerned with Governor Gage and others, under instructions from the British ministry, in exciting the Shawnetse, and other savages of the Ohio country, against the white people. Emissaries were also sent among the Cherokees and Creeks for the same purpose; and all of the tribes of the Six Nations, except the Oneidas, were found in arms with the British when war began. Thus excited, dreadful massacres occurred on the borders of the several colonies. [2]

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The constitutional history of opposition to taxation is sufficiently interesting to be abstracted from broader contexts. Key action occurred in the Colony of Virginia in the decade before 1776. A particular protest document, arguably the most eloquent and most effective among many colonial protests, merits special attention.

Massachusetts Convention of Towns

The Massachusetts Convention of Towns was an extralegal assembly held in Boston in response to the news that British troops would soon be arriving to crack down on anti-British rioting. Delegates from 96 Massachusetts towns gathered in Faneuil Hall to discuss their options. The more militant faction, led by James Otis Jr., Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, wanted to organize an armed resistance. The more conservative faction, led by convention chairman Thomas Cushing, preferred to lodge a written complaint. The conservatives won out, and the delegates endorsed a series of mild resolutions before disbanding.


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