July 2 – Letter from John Adams to Abigail.
Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was decided in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent states, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things which other States may rightfully do.” . . .
. . . Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven that the Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least it wil inspire Us with many virtues, which We have not, and correct more Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us.–The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Government we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great.–I am not without Apprehensions from this quarter. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.
He continues to describe how they came to this conclusion:
Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their Judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.–This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six months ago.
So, implicit in our nation’s birth was a sense of not only man’s flaws but his virtues. We may be subject to corruption & venality, but we are rational beings that, if given time & a cause, can come to rational conclusions through the open marketplace of ideas. And he concludes:
Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in the Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
Human nature or human equality—the fact that human beings are neither angels nor mindless brutes—gives rise to the idea of constitutional or limited government. This is a political constitution that conforms to the natural constitution of man. Because human beings are fallible and because their reason is subject sometimes to their passions, human government must be subject to law.