Editor’s Note: If ever there was a declaration that shows how sentiments for independence at the most local level can drive its state delegates to do the right thing and join the other colonies in breaking from Britain, this is it. When the Second Continental Congress first considered, on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to declare complete independence from Britain, Maryland’s delegates were among those not yet prepared to vote in the affirmative. But declarations such as the one from Talbot County made it clear which way the political winds were blowing, and that the delegates had better start marching in lockstep with ‘the people,’ who “view the Parliament as lost to all sense of justice and humanity, attached to, and governed by, a corrupt and wicked Ministry, who are intending the ruin of their infatuated master, or determined to make his Government absolute, and erect a tyranny over his dominions, of which they expect to have the direction.”
Instructions to the Delegates of Talbot County, Maryland, for Independence
The Address of part of the freemen of the said County:
GENTLEMEN: The vast importance of the dispute now subsisting between Great Britain and the North-American Colonies, the fatal consequences that must attend the mismanagement of that dispute, and the effects they must inevitably have on us, in common with the neighbouring Governments, sufficiently justify us, your constituents, in laying our sentiments before you, on the present occasion, respecting the measures taken for carrying into execution the plan proposed for the preservation of our liberties, now in the most imminent danger.
We, therefore, in virtue of that right which the constituent hath in his Representative or Deputy, take leave to express to you our great concern and sorrow that we cannot approve the measures pursued in the last session of Convention. We have seen, with grief and astonishment, the Convention of Maryland, in matters of the utmost importance, resolving in direct opposition to the honourable Congress. We have also seen it, in our opinion, profusely lavishing the publick money, at a time when the constituents are labouring under every burden which imagination can conceive, without money, without trade, or any possible means of procuring either. We likewise view its instructions to our Delegates in Congress, of the 18th of January and 21st of May last, as tending, in direct terms, to a breach of that confidential harmony so happily, before that, subsisting among the United Colonies, and which we, in common with every Colonist embarked in the cause of liberty, beheld as our greatest glory, and the only source of our protection. Its resolves in opposition to those in Congress of the 15th of May, declaring it to be necessary that the exercise of any kind of authority under the Crown of Great Britain should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of Government exerted under the authority of the people, we conceive to be a direct breach of the Continental Union, and to have a tendency to introduce anarchy and confusion, by setting up and continuing two separate and opposite authorities at the same time binding on the good people of this Province. We look upon the rule of voting in Convention by Counties to be dangerous, as productive of influence which may be used to rule the determinations and resolves of the House by a minority of twenty-seven members, who, in such case, may have all the effects of a majority. We consider our present mode of Government by Conventions and Committees, as insufficient to accomplish the end for which it was instituted; and dangerous, so far as it unites the Legislative and Executive powers in nearly the same persons, which is the true definition of tyranny. We would by no means insinuate that the Convention hath any intention of using its power to that purpose, and hope we shall not be so understood by you; but it is proper to guard against probable evil, where the liberties of mankind are concerned. We have seen, with sorrow of heart, the King of Great Britain inexorably determined upon the ruin of our liberties. We view the Parliament as lost to all sense of justice and humanity, attached to, and governed by, a corrupt and wicked Ministry, who are intending the ruin of their infatuated master, or determined to make his Government absolute, and erect a tyranny over his dominions, of which they expect to have the direction. We have seen all the petitions of the Congress treated with contempt; an act of Parliament declaring our resistance against actual violence to be rebellion, excluding us from the protection of the Crown, and compelling such of the Colonists as shall be taken prisoners to fight against their country; the treaties of the King of Great Britain with European Princes, for engaging foreign mercenaries to aid the forces of that Kingdom in their attempts to subdue theAmericans, or cut their throats; and by his answer to the Address of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council of the City of London, he manifests such a determined resolution to effect the destruction of American freedom, that we cannot entertain the most distant expectation of a reconciliation on reasonable terms. This being the case, we look on all lukewarm backwardness in the Convention of this Province, in the common cause of America, and every opposition to the resolves of Congress calculated for our safety and general security, (as we are convinced that of the 15th of May, above-mentioned, was,) to be of the most dangerous tendency, and that it will naturally induce the Ministry to look on this Province as friendly to their measures, and, in all probability, bring their forces among us, by which we shall have our country made the seat of war, and experience all its horrours. Possessed with these sentiments, we, in the most earnest terms, request your attention to the following Instructions, viz:
First. That you use your utmost influence that the Instructions given by Convention to our Delegates in Congress, before-mentioned, be rescinded, and that they may be instructed by the present Convention to concur and co-operate with the Delegates of the other United Colonies, in forming such further compacts between the said Colonies, concluding such treaties with foreign kingdoms, and in adopting such other measures as shall be judged necessary for promoting the liberty, safety, and interest of America, and defeating the schemes and machinations of our enemies, the King and Parliament and Ministry of Great Britain.
Second. That you use the same influence to induce the Convention to comply with the resolves of Congress of the 15th of May last, in exerting all the powers of Government under the authority of the people of this Province, by forming a Constitution adequate to that purpose; and in case the present Convention shall decline that task, that you promote and procure a resolve to determine their power at the end of the present session, and order an election for members to compose a new Convention for the purpose of forming such Constitution.
Third. That you use your endeavours to procure a different mode of voting in Convention; that the method may be by the members each voting separately, as was formerly practised in Assembly; that in all questions of importance, when the House divides, the yeas and nays be constantly taken, and published with the proceedings, for the information of the publick respecting the behaviour of their Representatives.
Fourth. That you use your utmost endeavours to put a stop to the executing the writs of election which we understand are already issued in the name of the Proprietary, or by the authority of the King of Great Britain, as no fair elections can be held, or the people legally represented, under the present circumstances of this Province, for reasons too obvious to require being mentioned.
Fifth. That you use your endeavours and influence to have the members of the Council of Safety appointed from among the Delegates in Convention only, they being persons duly elected by the people, who are the source of all power.
Sixth. That you endeavour to procure a resolve of Convention to prevent any undue influence being used at elections by military officers over the men they command, a danger which may possibly arise from the attachment natural enough in the soldier to his commander.
Seventh. That you move for and promote a reasonable regulation to enable debtors to pay off their creditors in country produce, especially in the case of rents and interest due on obligations or otherwise, and also the publick levies now due.
Eighth. That you endeavour to procure a resolve of Convention to exclude all officers, civil or military, from holding seats in Convention or Congress, after appointment to each office, until rechosen; and to exclude all members of Congress from a seat in the Convention.
Ninth. That you endeavour to reduce the enormous allowance of fifteen pounds per week given to each of our Delegates in Congress, this being a time when strict economy is necessary; and also reduce the allowance of members in Convention to a sum adequate to their necessary expense, as we are persuaded you will agree with us in opinion that the present state of this Province will by no means admit of profusion.
American Archives, Series 6, Peter Force, editor, pp. 1017-1018; Washington, D.C.: M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, pp. 1019:1021
American Scripture: The Making of the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, New York: Vintage, 1998