Editor’s Note: If ever a compelling case can be made that the Declaration of July 4, 1776 was in fact evocative of declarations at the state and local level that preceded it, one need look no further than the opening section of this at-times rather poetic ‘presentment’ issued in May 1776 in the Cheraws District of South Carolina. Here it is made clear that when “a people, born and bred in a land of freedom and virtue,…actuated by every principle of liberality, … are convinced of the wicked schemes of their treacherous rulers to fetter them with the chains of servitude, and rob them of every noble and desirable privilege which distinguishes them as freemen, — justice, humanity, and the immutable laws of God, justify and support them in revoking those sacred trusts which are so impiously violated, and placing them in such hands as are most likely to execute them in the manner and for the important ends for which they were first given.” Thomas Jefferson, then, was by no stretch the only one who could author a statement with rhetorical flourishes entwined with convincing claims for parting company with King and Parliament.
Presentments by the Grand Jury of Cheraws District, in South-Carolina
I. When a people, born and bred in a land of freedom and virtue, uncorrupted by those refinements which effeminate and debase the mind, manly and generous in their sentiments, bold and hardy in their nature, and actuated by every principle of liberality, from too sad experience are convinced of the wicked schemes of their treacherous rulers to fetter them with the chains of servitude, and rob them of every noble and desirable privilege which distinguishes them as freemen, — justice, humanity, and the immutable laws of God, justify and support them in revoking those sacred trusts which are so impiously violated, and placing them in such hands as are most likely to execute them in the manner and for the important ends for which they were first given.
II. The good people of this Colony, with the rest of her sister Colonies, confiding in the justice and merited protection of the King and Parliament of Great Britain, ever signalized themselves by every mark of duty and affection towards them, and esteemed such a bond of union and harmony as the greatest happiness. But when that protection was wantonly withdrawn, and every mark of cruelty and oppression substituted; when tyranny, violence, and injustice, took the place of equity, mildness, and affection; and bloodshed, murder, robbery, conflagration, and the most deadly persecution, stamped the malignity of her intentions; self-preservation, and a regard to our own welfare and security, became a consideration both important and necessary. The Parliament and Ministry of Great Britain, by their wanton and undeserved persecutions, have reduced this Colony to a state of separation from her, unsought for and undesired by them: a separation which now proves its own utility, as the only lasting means of future happiness and safety. What every one once dreaded as the greatest misery, they now unexpectedly find their greatest advantage. Amidst all her sufferings, and manifold injuries which have been done her, this Colony was ever ready, with her sister Colonies, to ask for that reconciliation which showed every mark of forgiveness and promise of future harmony. But how were they treated? Each token of submission was aggravated into usurpation; humble petitions styled insults; and every dutiful desire of accommodation treated with the most implacable contempt. Cast off, persecuted, defamed, given up as a prey to every violence and injury, a righteous and much injured people have at length appealed to God and, trusting to his divine justice and their own virtuous perseverance, taken the only and last means of securing their own honour, safety, and happiness.
III. We now feel every joyful and comfortable hope that a people could desire in the present Constitution and form of Government established in this Colony; a Constitution founded on the strictest principles of justice and humanity, where the rights and happiness of the whole, the poor and the rich, are equally secured; and to secure and defend which, it is the particular interest of every individual who regards his own safety and advantage.
IV. When we consider the publick officers of our present form of Government now appointed, as well as the method and duration of their appointment, we cannot but declare our entire satisfaction and comfort; as well in the characters of such men, who are justly esteemed for every virtue, as their well-known abilities to execute the important trusts which they now hold.
V. Under these convictions, and filled with these hopes, we cannot but most earnestly recommend it to every man, as essential to his own liberty and happiness, as well as that
of his posterity, to secure and defend with his life and fortune a form of Government so just, so equitable, and promising; to inculcate its principles to their children, and hand it down to them unviolated, that the latest posterity may enjoy the virtuous fruits of that work, which the integrity and fortitude of the present age had, at the expense of their blood and treasure, at length happily effected.
VI. We cannot but declare how great the pleasure, the harmony, and political union which now exists in this District, affords; and having no grievances to complain of, only beg leave to recommend that a new Jury list be made for this District, the present being insufficient.
And lastly, we beg leave to return our most sincere thanks to Mr. Justice Matthews, for his spirited and patriotick charge; at the same time requesting that these our presentments be printed in the publick papers.
PHILIP PLEDGER, Foreman.
May 20, 1776
Source: American Archives, Series 6, Peter Force, Editor, Pp. 514-515
American Scripture: The Making of the Declaration of Independence, Pauline Maier, New York: Vintage, 1998