Editor’s note: In this eloquent and insightful missive of June 24, 1776, a Pennsylvania watchman — typically someone who keeps lookout in a town at night — forewarns his countrymen that declaring and even winning independence is just a first step — “we shall then only have crossed the Red Sea of our difficulties. A wilderness will still be before us. We have been enslaved with European ideas, manners, and laws.” Before a complete break can be made, and a genuinely new beginning can be had, “(h)ereditary right to power, titles, excise laws, &c˙, must all be laid in the dust,” and only then can the people “expect to establish or reap the fruits of good Government in the Colonies.” Further, while he believes that the wealthy should not ipso facto be excluded from the confidences of the people, they must acknowledge “that they derive no right to power from their wealth; and that a freeman worth only fifty pounds is entitled, by the laws of our Province, to all the privileges of the first nabob in the country.”
Address of a Watchman to the People of Pennsylvania, on a Declaration of Independence
TO THE PEOPLE OF PENNSYLVANIA.
The Tories have at length occupied their last post. They now acknowledge that Independence is inevitable, but endeavour to persuade us that a formal declaration of it is unnecessary, and that we are already as independent as we can be of the Crown of Britain. It is in vain to urge the advantages we shall derive in forming foreign alliances from an immediate declaration of independence. The campaign, they tell us, is commenced, and France cannot receive our manifesto time enough to help us before the next year. Be not terrified, ye poor creatures, with a word, nor put off the day any longer that is to exalt you to the rank of men.
Your posterity will look upon it as the birth-day of permanent liberty to this country.
Should an immediate declaration of independence take place, we shall then only have crossed the Red Sea of our difficulties. A wilderness will still be before us. We have been enslaved with European ideas, manners, and laws. Hereditary right to power, titles, excise laws, &c˙, must all be laid in the dust before we can expect to establish or reap the fruits of good Government in the Colonies.
You will be in danger, my dear countrymen, from men who wish and aim to unite the present contending parties in our Province. Where men agree in an object, but differ only in the means of obtaining it, there it is proper to reconcile them to each other; and whether pains are taken or not for this purpose, a coalition will always take place sooner or later between them. Many people who signed the Remonstrance, in a few years will embrace the present advocates for a free and independent Government in their arms, and execrate the men who handed it to them. These people love liberty. They have only committed a mistake in the means of establishing it on a permanent foundation. Avoid only, my countrymen, a union with Tories and Crown-officers, who have shown themselves inimical to the measures of the Congress. Some of them will probably soon begin to bellow for independence. But be not deceived. They have delayed their repentance till the orders were given to drive away the cart. It is now too late for them to hope for a reprieve. They aim only to be continued in office. Remember the conduct of Queen Anne’ s Tory Ministry, who attempted to bring the Stuart family to the throne near thirty years after they were expelled from it.
I would by no means exclude men of property from the confidence of the people, provided they possess understanding, integrity, and publick spirit. But always remember that they derive no right to power from their wealth; and that a freeman worth only fifty pounds is entitled, by the laws of our Province, to all the privileges of the first nabob in the country. Remember the influence of wealth upon the morals and principles of mankind. Recollect how often have heard the first principles of Government subverted the calls of Cato, and other Catalines, to make way for men of fortune to declare their sentiments upon the subject of independence; as if a minority of rich men were to govern the majority of virtuous freeholders in the Province. Honour, liberty, and life, (and these are the common portions of every freeman inPennsylvania,) are worth all the wealth in the world. A WATCHMAN.
Philadelphia, June 24, 1776.
Source: American Archives, Series Four, Vol. 6, Peter Force, ed., Washington: M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, 1846, pp. 1047-1048
American Scripture: The Making of the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, New York: Knopf, 1997