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The Declaration of Independence (1776)

Thomas Jefferson

List of Abuses and Usurpations

Preamble

List of Abuses and Usurpations, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

The colonies have suffered 27 at the hands of the King George III. Each of these abuses has been directed at the colonies for the purpose of establishing a tyrannical government in North America. Jefferson claims that the colonists have patiently suffered these abuses and that it is now time to expose these abuses to the nations of the world.

The first 12 abuses involve King George III's establishment of a tyrannical authority in place of representative government. The foundation of representative government is the power of the people to make laws for the public good. King George III interfered with that process by rejecting legislation proposed by the colonies, dissolving colonial bodies of representation, replacing colonial governments with his appointed ministers, and interfering with the naturalization of citizens in new regions. King George III extended his tyrannical control by interfering with the objective judicial processes and the civil rights of the colonists. King George III prevented the establishment of judicial powers in the colonies and made judges dependent on him for their jobs and salaries. King George III further established tyrannical control by maintaining a strong military presence under his direct command. The King is a tyrant, because he keeps standing armies in the colonies during a time of peace, makes the military power superior to the civil government, and forces the colonists to support the military presence through increased taxes.

Abuses 13 through 22 describe the involvement of parliament in destroying the colonists' right to self-rule. The king has "combined with others" to subject the colonists to legislation passed without colonial input or consent. Legislation has been passed to quarter troops in the colonies, to shut off trade with other parts of the world, to levy taxes without the consent of colonial legislatures, to take away the right to trial by jury, and to force colonists to be tried in England. Additionally, legislation has established absolute rule in a nearby area, taken away the authority of colonial governments, and forbidden further legislation by colonial governments.

The last 5 abuses, 23 through 27, refer to specific actions that the King of Great Britain took to abandon the colonies and to wage war against them. The King has attempted to suppress the colonial rebellion through violence and military means. He sent the British military to attack colonists, burn their towns, attack their ships at sea, and destroy the lives of the people. He hired foreign mercenaries to fight against the colonies. He kidnapped American sailors to force them into British military service, refused to protect the colonies from Native American attack, and has caused colonists to fight against each other.

Commentary

The list of abuses reflects the colonists' belief that their rights as British Citizens had been slowly eroded ever since the French and Indian War ended in 1763. Although the Declaration does not name the specific legislation passed by Parliament, its listing of the abuses and usurpation effectively covers the history of the King and Parliament's attempts to gain more power and control over the colonies. The list crescendos with the most offensive actions, aimed at total suppression of the colonies, that were put into effect just prior to the signing of the Declaration.

Many of the acts that the Declaration criticizes were intended to tighten royal control over the colonies. The history of Parliament's acts unfolded over a period of 13 years during which royal attempts to squash the civil liberties of colonists met with heightened colonial resistance. Beginning with The Proclamation of 1763, Parliament stripped colonists of the right to settle in the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. This meant that although many colonists had given their lives to defend that land from the French, they would not be permitted to reap the benefits. Shortly after the proclamation, Parliament decided that the colonies would help repay the war debts, and enacted laws such as the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Tax (1765), the Townshend Acts (1767) and the Tea Act (1773). When the colonists protested against these acts, the King and Parliament responded by further suppressing the rights of colonists. Legislation in 1774 referred to by colonists as the "Intolerable Acts" struck especially hard at the civil rights of the colony of Massachusetts.

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