J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

In Rhode Island, that is.

On 4 May 1776, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to break legal ties with Great Britain. It was the first colony to take that step, at least as Rhode Island historians would have it.

Other colonial bodies had instructed their delegates to the Continental Congress to support independence, or had started to alter their legal language to remove references to the British king. But Rhode Island’s legislature repealed the law that had bound the colony to Great Britain.

The repeal bill was rather legalistic and far less stirring than the Congress’s July Declaration of Independence, but it contained the same basic argument:
WHEREAS in all States, existing by Compact, Protection and Allegiance are reciprocal, the latter being only due in Consequence of the former;

And whereas GEORGE the Third, King of Great-Britain, forgetting his Dignity, regardless of the Compact most solemnly entered into, ratified and confirmed, to the Inhabitants of this Colony, by his illustrious Ancestors, and till of late fully recognized by Him—and entirely departing from the Duties and Character of a good King, instead of protecting, is endeavoring to destroy the good People of this Colony, and of all the United Colonies, by sending Fleets and Armies to America, to confiscate our Property, and spread Fire, Sword and Desolation, throughout our Country, in order to compel us to submit to the most debasing and detestable Tyranny;

whereby we are obliged by Necessity, and it becomes our highest Duty, to use every Means, with which God and Nature have furnished us, in Support of our invaluable Rights and Privileges; to oppose that Power which is exerted only for our Destruction.

BE it therefore Enacted by this General Assembly, and by the Authority thereof it is Enacted, That an Act intituled, “An Act for the more effectual securing to his Majesty the Allegiance of his Subjects in this his Colony and Dominion of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations,” be, and the same is hereby, repealed.

AND be it further Enacted by this General Assembly, and by the Authority thereof it is Enacted, That in all Commissions for Offices, civil and military, and in all Writs and Processes in Law, whether original, judicial or executory, civil or criminal, wherever the Name, and Authority of the said King is made Use of, the same shall be omitted, and in the Room thereof the Name and Authority of the Governor and Company of this Colony shall be Substituted, in the following Words, to Wit: “The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations:”

That all Such Commissions, Writs and Processes, shall be otherwise of the same Form and Tenure as they heretofore were: That the Courts of Law be no longer entitled nor considered as the King’s Courts: And that no Instrument in Writing, of any Nature or Kind, whether public or private, shall in the Date thereof mention the Year of the said King’s Reign: Provided nevertheless That nothing in this Act contained shall render void or vitiate any Commission, Writ, Process or Instrument, heretofore made or executed, on Account of the Name and Authority of the said King being therein inserted.
The rest of the long law laid out new language for all sorts of government oaths, from the governor down to petit jurors and town officials. Not the sort of thing schoolchildren would feel proud to memorize.

Notably, civil officials had to “engage” to carry out their offices, and their oaths didn’t end with “So help me God.” However, militia officers and clerks had to “swear” and say “So help me God.” The former oaths might have been written with Quakers in mind, but Quakers were excused from militia duty on religious grounds.

(The photo above shows the Old State House in Providence, site of the assembly’s vote in May 1776, courtesy of the state’s Secretary of State.)

1 comment:

Todd Andrlik said...

I shared a 1776 news clip of Rhode Island's announcement on RagLinen.com. Click here to read the breaking news from the 20 May 1776 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.