Editor’s Note: A first glance at the grievances enumerated here, and the language and tone in which they are presented, and you might think that Charles County took its cue from our July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence — yet it was issued about a month before that famous document.
Charles County, in the convention of Maryland, to move for, without loss of time, and endeavour to obtain, positive instructions to their Delegates in Congress immediately to join the other Colonies in declaring the Colonies independent of Great Britain
We, the subscribers, freemen of Charles County, in the Province of Maryland, taking into our most serious consideration the present state of the unhappy dispute between Great Britain and the United Colonies, and the very great distress and hardships they have brought upon us thereby, think proper to deliver you our sentiments, and to instruct you in certain points relative to your conduct in the next Convention, as Representatives of this County. Reasons for the mode of voting, and determining questions, by a majority of Counties, have not appeared to us to exist since the last general election; therefore, we charge and instruct you to move for, and endeavour to obtain a regulation for voting individually, and determining questions by a majority of members, and not of Counties, in future. And as we know we have a right to hear, or be informed what is transacted in Convention, we instruct you to move for, and endeavour to obtain, a resolve for the doors of the House to be kept open in future, and that, on all questions proposed and seconded, the yeas and nays be taken, and, together with every other part of your proceedings, published, except such only as may relate to military operations, questions which ought to be debated with the doors shut, and the determinations thereon kept secret.
The experience we have had of the cruelty and injustice of the British Government, under which we have too long borne oppression and wrongs, and notwithstanding every peaceable endeavour of the United Colonies to get redress of grievances, by decent, dutiful, and sincere petitions and representations to the King and Parliament, giving every assurance of our affection and loyalty, and praying for no more than peace, liberty and safety under the British Government, yet have we received nothing but an increase of insult and injury, by all the Colonies being declared in actual rebellion; savages hired to take up arms against us; slaves proclaimed free, enticed away, trained and armed against their lawful masters; our towns plundered, burnt, and destroyed; our vessels and property seized on the seas, made free plunder to the captors, and our seamen forced to take arms against ourselves; our friends and countrymen, when captivated, confined in dungeons, and, as if criminals, chained down to the earth; our estates confiscated, and our men, women and children robbed and murdered: and as at this time, instead of Commissioners to negotiate a peace, as we have been led to believe were coming out, a formidable fleet of British ships, with a numerous army of foreign soldiers, in British pay, are daily expected on our coast, to force us to yield the property we have honestly acquired, and fairly own, and drudge out the remainder of our days in misery and wretchedness, leaving us nothing better to bequeath to posterity than poverty and slavery:— we must, for these reasons, declare, that our affection for the people, and allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain, so readily and truly acknowledged till of late, is forfeited on their part. And as we are convinced that nothing virtuous, humane, generous, or just, can be expected from the British King or nation, and that they will exert themselves to reduce us to a state of slavery, by every effort and artifice in their power, we are of opinion that the time has fully arrived for the Colonies to adopt the last measure for our common good and safety, and that the sooner they declare themselves separate from, and independent of the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain, the sooner they will be able to make effectual opposition, and establish their liberties on a firm and permanent basis. We, therefore, most earnestly instruct and charge you to move for, without loss of time, and endeavour to obtain, positive instructions from the Convention of Maryland to their Delegates in Congress, immediately to join the other Colonies in declaring that the United Colonies no longer owe allegiance to, nor are they dependant upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain, or any other power on earth, but are, for time to come, free and independent States; provided that the power of forming Government, and regulating the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to their respective Legislatures; and that said Delegates give the assent of this Province to any further confederation of the Colonies for the support of their union, and for forming such foreign commercial connections as may be requisite and necessary for our common good and safety. And as the present Government under the King cannot longer exist with safety to the freemen of this Province, we are of opinion a new form of Government, agreeable to the late recommendation of the honourable Continental Congress to all the United Colonies, ought immediately to be adopted.
American Archives, Series Four, Vol. 6, Peter Force, editor, pp 1018-19, 1843
American Scripture: The Making of the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, New York: Vintage, 1998