Independence Declared in Bridgetown – Elmer’s Address

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From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

The committee of inspection for the county of Cumberland, in the State of New Jersey, the officers of the militia, and a great number of other inhabitants, having met at Bridgetown, went in procession to the court-house, where the declaration of independency, the constitution of New Jersey, and treason ordinance, were publicly read, and unanimously approved of. These were followed with a spirited address by Doctor [Jonathan] Elmer, chairman of the committee, after which the peace officers’ staves, on which were depicted the King’s coat-of-arms, with other ensigns of royalty, were burnt in the street. The whole was conducted with the greatest decency and regularity.1

The following is the substance of the before mentioned address:

“Gentlemen of the Committee, Officers of the Militia, and Gentlemen Spectators; –From what has now been read, you see the long wished for, but much dreaded period has arrived, in which the connection between Great Britain and America is totally dissolved, and these colonies declared free and independent states. As this is an event of the greatest importance, it must afford satisfaction to every intelligent person to reflect that it was brought about by unavoidable necessity on our part, and has been conducted with a prudence and moderation becoming the wisest and best of men.

With the independency of the American States, a new era in politics has commenced. Every consideration respecting the propriety or impropriety of a separation from Britain, is now entirely out of the question; and we have now no more to do with the King and people of England, than we have with the King and people of France or Spain. No people under heaven were ever favored with a fairer opportunity of laying a sure foundation for future grandeur and happiness than we. The plan of government established in most states and kingdoms of the world, has been the effect of chance or necessity; ours of sober reason and cool deliberation. Our future happiness or misery, therefore, as a people, will depend entirely upon ourselves. If actuated by principles of virtue and genuine patriotism, we make the welfare of our country the sole aim of all our actions; if we intrust none but persons of ability and integrity with the management of our public affairs; if we carefully guard against corruption and undue influence in the several departments of government; if we are steady and zealous in putting the laws in strict execution, the spirit and principles of our new constitution, which we have just now heard read, may be preserved for a long time: but if faction and party spirit, the destruction of popular governments, take place, anarchy and confusion will soon ensue, and we shall either fall an easy prey to a foreign enemy, or some factious and aspiring demagogue possessed of popular talents and shining qualities. A Julius Caesar, or an Oliver Cromwell, will spring up among ourselves, who, taking advantage of our political animosities, will lay violent hands on the government, and sacrifice the liberties of his country to his own ambitious and domineering humor. God grant that neither of these may ever be the unhappy fate of this, or any of the United States! To prevent which, while we are striving to defend ourselves against the unjust encroachments of a foreign and unnatural enemy, let us not neglect to keep a strict and jealous eye over our internal police and constitution. Let the fate of Greece, Rome, Carthage, and Great Britain, warn us of our danger; and the loss of liberty in all those states, for want of timely guarding against the introduction of tyranny and usurpation, be a standing admonition to us, to avoid the rock on which they have all shipwrecked.

Let us, as honest citizens and sincere lovers of our country, exert ourselves in the defence of our state, and in support of our new constitution; but, while we strive to vindicate the glorious cause of liberty, on the one hand, let us on the other hand, carefully guard against running into the contrary extreme of disorder and licentiousness.

In our present situation, engaged in a bloody and dangerous war with the power of Great Britain, for the defence of our lives, our liberties, our property, and every thing that is dear and valuable; every member of this state, who enjoys the benefits of its civil government, is absolutely bound, by the immutable law of self-preservation, the laws of God and of society, to assist in protecting and defending it. This is so plain and self-evident a proposition, that I am persuaded every person here present makes it the rule of his conduct on all occasions; and consequently, in a time of such imminent danger, will be extremely careful, at our ensuing election, not to trust any one with the management of our public affairs, who has not, by his vigilance and activity in the cause of liberty, proved himself to be a true friend to his country. The success, gentlemen, of our present glorious struggle wholly depends upon this single circumstance. For, though the situation and extent of the United States of America, and our numberless internal resources, are sufficient to enable us to bid defiance to all Europe; yet should we be so careless about our own safety, as to intrust the affairs of our state, while the bayonet is pointed at our breasts, to persons whose conduct discovers them to be enemies to their country, or whose religious principles will not suffer them to lift a hand for our defence, our ruin will inevitably follow.

As it is impossible for any one, possessed of the spirit of a man, who is a friend to the United States, and whose conscience does not furnish him with an excuse, to stand by, an idle spectator, while his country is struggling and bleeding in her own necessary defence; all such inactive persons ought, therefore, to be shunned as enemies or despised as cowards. And as I have reason to believe that many who plead conscience as an excuse, are sincere in their pretensions; and as every man’s conscience ought to be free from compulsion, this single consideration should restrain us from forcing such into any of the departments of government. For to put such persons, at this time, in places of public trust, is actually to deprive them of liberty of conscience; for we thereby compel them either to betray the trust reposed in them, or to act contrary to the dictates of their own consciences. A dilemma in which, act as they will, their conduct must be criminal. Besides, if we consulted only our own safety, it is plain, that to intrust the affairs of our government, at this juncture, to such people, is as dangerous as to intrust the management of a ship in a violent storm, to an infant, or an idiot.

As a friend to my country and a lover of liberty, I thought it my duty to address you on this occasion, and having now, as a faithful member of society, discharged my duty, I shall leave you to the exercise of your own judgment, and conclude with a request, that you would conduct yourselves this day in such a manner as to convince the public that your abhorrence of the cruel and bloody Nero of Britain, and his despicable minions of tyranny and oppression, arises, not from the mere impulse of blind passion and prejudice, but from sober reason and reflection; and while we rejoice in being formally emancipated from our haughty and imperious Task-masters, let us remember, that the final termination of this grand event is not likely to be brought about without shedding the blood of many of our dear friends and countrymen.2

 

1 August 7, 1776
2 Pennsylvania Journal, August 28.

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