The Official Declaration of Independence was written in the handwriting of Charles Thompson from Maghera, printed by John Dunlap from Strabane, given its first public reading by the son of an Ulsterman, Colonel John Nixon, and among the signatories were the following, all either born in Ulster, or born to Ulster parents — John Hancock, President of the Congress, Thomas McKean, Thomas Nelson, Robert Paine, Edward Rutledge, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton and William Whipple. The great Seal of the United States — an eagle holding arrows and a branch — was designed by Charles Thompson after a Congressional committee consisting of Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, broke up in disagreement. Edward Rutledge’s brother John chaired a committee of five states which drew up the United States Constitution. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, the United States Constitution bore Rutledge’s “personal stamp. One man made it; and it was Rutledge.”
One direct influence on the radical thinking that was now being formulated in the ‘New World’ was the work of the great Ulster philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, son of an Armagh Presbyterian minister, and who was born probably at Drumalig, Saintfield, County Down in 1694. He studied for the church at Glasgow (1710-1716) but then started a private academy in Dublin where he was particularly associated with the advanced Presbyterian libertarians, Thomas Drennan, William Bruce and Samuel Haliday. In 1729 he was appointed professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, where he died in 1746. His most important work is A Sense of Moral Philosophy (with a Life, 1755). Hutcheson was quite explicit about the right of resistance by the people in the event of a betrayal of trust by a government. He expounded the doctrine of religious toleration and he deeply admired the tradition of armed militias for the protection of civil liberties.
The principles he espoused found their way via American revolutionary thinkers into the Declaration of Independence and are embodied in the American Constitution. Hutcheson’s influence on Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others is explored in M. White’s Philosophy of the American Revolution and G. Wills’ Inventing America. In fact, Wills concluded that Hutcheson’s influence on Jefferson was stronger than that of John Locke. Hutcheson was a pioneer of the ‘Common Sense’ school of philosophy, influenced by Locke; his ethical system is a development of Shaftesbury’s ‘Moral Sense’ ethics, in which moral distinctions are in a sense intuited, rather than arrived at by reasoning.
The most glaring omission from the Declaration of Independence was a strong disapproval of Black slavery. Had such a clause been included it would have made the way much easier toward final emancipation via legal methods. Matthew T Mellon, in his study of the racial attitudes of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’, Early American Views on Negro Slavery, concluded that while the leading men at the time of the Revolution were all concerned with how to abolish the slave trade, economic pressures and moral indifference prevented them from energetically pursuing its abolition. “Problems grew out of the attitude of the early colonists and their European proprietors, who thought that the great natural resources of America were meant to be consumed and exploited as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.
The English manufacturers realized that the slave trade, which began in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was a great stimulant to American agriculture and would furnish raw material for their mills. On the other hand, the presence of the English markets and their ability to absorb all the raw materials that were produced, proved a stimulant to the plantation owners to increase their laborers. And while it is true, as Jefferson claimed, that the slave trade was imposed upon the colonists by powers outside of the colonies, it is also true that the colonists too quickly forgot their scruples against it. Any student of the period must admit that with the occasional outbursts of honest indignation against slavery and the slave trade there existed a great deal of moral indifference and unconcern which allowed this great social problem to develop.”
To be continued