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