[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE]. [MASSACHUSETTS BAY, Colony]. A Proclamation. The Frailty of Human Nature, the Wants of Individuals, and the numerous Dangers which surround them, through the Course of Life, have...impelled them to form Societies , and establish Governments. As the Happiness of the People is the sole end of Government, so the Consent of the People is the only Foundation of it...therefore every Act of Government, every exercise of Sovreignty, against, or without the Consent of the People, is Injustice, Usurpation and Tyranny..., [Watertown, Mass.: Benjamin Edes, ca.19 January 1776]. Evans 14839 (quoting most of the text); ESTC CW36775 (8 copies, all in major institutions); Lowance & Bumgardner, Massachusetts Broadsides of the American Revolution, no.27.R
Folio (17 7/8 in. x 14 1/8 in.), original deckle edges preserved, light staining, neat repair to several small losses along central vertical fold (affecting "A" in "Proclamation" and "the" in "God Save the People" at bottom, and 6 or 7 other letters).
"GOD SAVE THE PEOPLE": AN IMPORTANT JANUARY 1776 PROCLAMATION THAT "ELOQUENTLY FORESHADOWS THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE"
A little-known broadside proclamation, enacted on 19 January 1776, whose indictment of British tyranny, bold rhetoric and revolutionary phraseology strikingly echo that employed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, which it anticipates by perhaps as much as six months. The phrase "consent of the people" employed here resembles Jefferson's "consent of the governed"; the Proclamation's phrase, "life, liberties and properties," echoes Jefferson's "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Other similarities can be noted, for, "like the Declaration of Indepndence, this proclamation is a philosophical statement as well as a list of specific grievances" (Lowance and Bumgardner). At the bottom, in place of the usual formula, "God Save the King," the proclamation carries the revolutionary invocation, "GOD SAVE THE PEOPLE."
In the last year of his life, refuting charges that the text of the Declaration had been at least partly borrowed from existing authors--if not actually plagiarized, as his enemies claimed--Jefferson told Richard Henry Lee that he had not been "aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing"; that fundamental text was simply, he maintained, "an expression of the American mind," reflective of and indicative of "the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc." (Writings, ed. Ford, 16:118).
The historic Massachusetts General Court Proclamation "eloquently foreshadows the Declaration of Independence." Its "rhetoric, and the general subject of human freedom, are focussed sharply in an assessment of England's tyranny over the colonies" (Lowance & Bumgardner). It indicts the British government for "dispising equally the Justice, Humanity, and Magnanimity of their Ancestors, and the Rights, Liberties and Courage of AMERICANS"; they have "for a Course of Years, laboured to establish a Sovereignty over Us, whom we know not, and have endeavoured to establish this Sovereignty over Us, against our Consent..." The proclamation emphatically states the basic principles that governments rule by the consent of the people, and power "always resides in the Body of the People"; therefore, "When Kings, Ministers, Governors, or Legislators...prostitute those Powers to the Purposes of Oppression;--to subvert, instead of supporting a free Constitution;--to destroy, instead of preserving the Lives, Liberties and Properties of the People;--they are no longer to be deemed Magistrates vested with a sacred Character, but become public Enemies, and ought to be resisted."
A recent historian who has particularly studied state and local declarations of independence, rightly observes that the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress, although it has become "American scripture," was in actuality "one of many similar documents of the time in which Americans advocated, explained, and justified Independence" (Maier, p.xviii). While there is as yet no direct evidence that Jefferson may have been familiar with this or any other revolutionary proclamations and pronouncements of Massachusetts, the study of Jefferson's antecedents and models--conscious and unconscious--is the subject of continuing scholarly study, and it is clear that he was suseptible to influences from a variey of diverse sources. On the general subject of Jefferson's sources, see G. Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, 1978; J. Fliegelman, Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language & the Culture of Performance, 1993; P.Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, 1997.