Editor’s Note: This declaration of independence was one of scores that was issued by states and localities in the months following the publication of Thomas Paine’s influential and rabble-rousing Common Sense. These declarations in turn informed our July 4, 1776 document. This statement, or declaration, was published in the Virginia Gazette on June 14, 1776, and was likely issued and distributed to freeholders in Buckingham County, VA, a month earlier.
Buckingham County, Virginia, Instructions to the Delegates
To CHARLES PATTERSON and JOHN CABELL, Gentlemen Delegates for the County of BUCKINGHAM, now in General Convention:
The Address and Instructions of the Freeholders of the said County.
As you were elected and deputed by us to fill the most difficult and important places that the Representatives of this County were ever appointed to act in, we cannot, in justice to ourselves and posterity, forbear to give some instructions concerning the discharge of your great trust. In this we have the example of many; but would not tie you down in a manner too strict and positive. Though a general confidence in your honesty and wisdom may be required; yet, in some great and leading questions, it may not be unnecessary to take the sense of your constituents: we give you ours in the plainest, easiest, and best method it can be collected. If it does not agree with the general opinion, we trust, at least, it will be pardonable. Actuated by a warm and sincere regard for the interests and rights of mankind, and a deep sense of our present situation, we wish to think and proceed aright in the affairs of such great consequence; and are willing, therefore, to submit our opinions to the candid judgment of the publick.
The unhappy dispute between Great Britain and these United Colonies seems now arrived to a crises, from whence events ought to take place which, at the beginning, we believe, were in contemplation of but few, and even by them viewed at a much greater distance. When dissensions first arose, we felt our hearts warmly attached to the King of Great Britain and the Royal family; but now the case is much altered. At that time we wished to look upon the Ministry and Parliament as the only fountains from which the bitter waters flowed, and considered the King as deceived and misguided by his counsellors; and were therefore let to think that he might, in a proper time, open his eyes, and become a mediator between his contending subjects. The measures, however, still pursued against America leave no room to expect such an interposition from motives of goodness and affection, or with concessions, which may be justly required. Our enemies denounce our ruin, from the whole tenour of their conduct; and the King’s speeches, and addresses, resolutions, and acts of Parliament, are evidently concerted to carry their great favourite point. Prospects of a reconciliation have opened themselves to some; but they, we fear, were only the ignorant, credulous, and unwary; and even to them they must, ere this, have closed with more threatening appearances. The gracious receipt of a Continental petition, and the bare mention of Commissioners, have been severally construed good marks of reconcilement and peace, by those who too fondly hoped what was generally desired.
When the British Parliament assumed an absolute power over us, and attempted to exercise that power, an opposition was formed in the United Colonies, the most pacifick which could be adopted, with any probability of success, in the last resort, should our enemies persist in their measures, and endeavour to drive us into submission by force. This opposition became a great offence in their eyes: our petitions were treated with contempt, our actions termed rebellious, and arms used to subdue us. As the Colonies seemed determined, from the first, to maintain their rights, and the rights of a free people, they were obliged to repel force by force; and, for the effectual purpose thereof, as occasions required, to take into their own hands the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers of Government. This was a necessary consequence, and no settled and permanent opposition could be made without it. They violated the faith of Charters, the principles of the Constitution, and attempted to destroy our legal as well as natural rights. We could do nothing without forming at least a temporary Government of our own, by laying aside that part, and dispensing with those forms, of the old Constitution, which were incompatible with our safety or success. They have broken through positive laws, and express acts of Assembly, as well as the ties which unite man to man in general affection; by which means they have become felons and enemies under those laws. In the struggle, the lives of hundreds have been destroyed; flourishing towns burnt down and demolished; property seized and taken, secretly and openly; thousands reduced from easy and affluent circumstances to poverty and distress; and all the horrors of an expensive and dreadful war experienced. We have opposed with arms, and persevered in our measures, with a resolution to maintain our rights, and regarded no law heretofore made but as it was found consistent with such a laudable design. Both sides grew every day more and more incensed, from circumstances which always arise in such contests; and that general confidence, so necessary to the support of every kind of Government, seems entirely annihilated, without a prospect of reunion of affections sufficient to restore it; it becomes daily more out of their power and farther from their inclinations to put us on the footing we stood at the close of the last war, or repair the damages we have sustained; which, if they should ever confess their errors, and desire to close with us on the terms we have hitherto offered, they must, in justice and reason, agree ought to be done.
Besides, the welfare of ourselves and future generations obliges us to turn matters over in every point of view, and consider what has been the issue of contests most similar to our own. As virtue or publick spirit cannot be thoroughly lost in any country, but must survive in the breasts of many individuals, so it would be too sanguine to imagine that any country is without some men of ambitious and selfish views, who, taking the advantage of favourable opportunities and an unsettled state, turn the scale too much to their own side, and destroy the liberty or fix the chains of their country. This evil we find generally arises in or after civil broils, when the people have no established Government, or are led, from a sense of danger or unlimited confidence, to give themselves up blindly to their leaders. This misfortune, we hope, will never happen among us; nor do we believe that, at this time, there is any influence or inclination to effect or desire it. However, it is better to prevent evils than have them to remedy; and no precaution can be too great for the attainment of every valuable end to mankind. When things are fixed in a point beyond the present, many advantages may probably accrue; we, therefore, your constituents, recommend and instruct you, as far as your voices will contribute, to cause a total and final separation from Great Britain to take place as soon as possible; or, as we conceive this great point will not come within your immediate province, that, as far as in your power, you cause such instructions to be given to the Delegates from this Colony to the Continental Congress; that you weigh well the importance of the matter, and endeavour to lodge power in the hands of those whose honesty, wisdom, and love for their country, will direct them to use it for the publick good; that, as far as you conceive are admitted, you cause a free and happy Constitution to be established, with a renunciation of the old, or so much thereof as has been found inconvenient and oppressive; and that you endeavour to fix a publick jealousy in this Constitution, as an essential principle of its support.
In the present unsettled state of affairs, when the Government erected among us is confessed on all hands to be only temporary, for the immediate purpose of opposing the arbitrary strides of Great Britain, and effecting a reconciliation with the mother country; when the contest is between subject and subject, with the established power of peace and war at the head of our enemies, and our professions and actions tend only to bring about a reconciliation, we have not the least room to believe that any foreign nation will espouse our cause in an open and avowed manner; but when we lay aside these considerations, and bid the last adieu, some foreign power may, for their own interest, lend an assisting hand, settle a trade, and enable us to discharge the great burdens of the war, which otherwise may become intolerable.
Here, again, we would direct you, as far as relates to your Province, to beware of any other than commercial alliances with foreigners; and to keep their armies off your shores, if possible. We ask for a full representation; free and frequent elections; and that no standing armies whatever should be kept up in time of peace. We trust you will use your utmost care and circumspection at this trying crises, that, as America is the last of the world which has contended for her liberty, so she may be the most free and happy. She has many advantages which others in nearly her circumstances have not known, arising from her situation and strength, and the experience of all before to profit by. View well the defects in other Governments, and consider the visible causes which reduced them from freedom to slavery, or raised them from slavery to liberty; and learn by these examples. It was by a Revolution, and the choice of the people, that the present Royal family was seated on the Throne of Great Britain; and we conceive the Supreme Being hath left it in our power to choose what Government we please for our civil and religious happiness; and when that becomes defective, or deviates from the end of its institution, and cannot be corrected, that the people ma form themselves into another, avoiding the defects of the former. This we would now wish to have effected, as soon as the general consent approves, and the wisdom of our councils will admit; that we may, as far as possible, keep up our primary object, and not lose ourselves in hankering after a reconciliation with Great Britain.
Good Government alone, and the prosperity of mankind, can be in the Divine intention; we pray, therefore, that under the superintending providence of the Ruler of the Universe, a Government may be established in America, the most free, happy, and permanent, that human wisdom can contrive, and the perfection of man maintain.
Published by order of the Committee:
ROLFE ELDRIDGE, Clerk
Source: American Archives, 4th Series, Peter Force, editor
American Scripture: The Making of the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, New York: Vintage, 1998