Critique of the 1776 Commission Report/Original text/Page 3


p3_c1_pp1 edit

There was no United States of America before July 4th, 1776. There was not yet, formally speaking, an American people. There were, instead, living in the thirteen British colonies in North America some two-and-a-half million subjects of a distant king. Those subjects became a people by declaring themselves such and then by winning the independence they had asserted as their right.

p3_c1_pp1 edit

They made that assertion on the basis of principle, not blood or kinship or what we today might call "ethnicity." Yet this fact must be properly understood. As John Jay explained in Federalist 2, "Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence."

p3_c2_pp1 edit

Yet, as Jay (and all the founders) well knew, the newly- formed American people were not quite as homogeneous — in ancestry, language, or religion — as this statement would seem to assert. They were neither wholly English nor wholly Protestant nor wholly Christian. Some other basis would have to be found and asserted to bind the new people together and to which they would remain attached if they were to remain a people. That basis was the assertion of universal and eternal principles of justice and political legitimacy.