Maryland's road to independence [Editorial]

The Free State was not so keen to free itself of Great Britain, holding out until the last hour before agreeing to support a declaration that would change history

  • John Trumbell's painting "declaration of Independence" depicts the presentation of a draft of the document to the Second Continental Congress. It hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
John Trumbell's painting "declaration of Independence"…
July 04, 2014

Within months of the first shots of what was to become America's Revolutionary War, Maryland mustered troops to join the Continental Army and help newly appointed general George Washington drive the British from Boston. But the willingness to support the armed struggle did not correspond with an inclination toward independence. As was the case generally throughout the colonies in 1775, Maryland's leaders remained steadfast in their hope for a redress of grievances with Great Britain and a peaceable reunion with the crown.

During the summer of 1775, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, sent to London what has become known as the Olive Branch Petition — essentially, a request for reconciliation. King George III refused to receive it or respond to it. Two months later, in October, King George III gave an address to Parliament in which he concluded that the rebellion in the colonies "manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire" — that is to say, if the colonists themselves thought their aim was a fairer place in the British Empire, the king did not see things that way and was prepared to crush the rebellion among the "deluded multitude" by sending more troops, more ships and, potentially, foreign fighters.

News of that speech reached the colonies at about the same time that British forces shelled the city of Norfolk, Va. Coupled with other acts of ruthlessness by the king's army, talk of independence began to grow more common. But still not yet in Maryland. The Conventions of the Province of Maryland met in Annapolis in early January, 1776, and issued a set of instructions to the colony's delegates to the Continental Congress reminding them of the blessings of British government and explicitly forbidding a vote for independence. Here is what they wrote:

'Firmly united to Great Britain'

"The convention taking into their most serious consideration, the present state of the unhappy dispute between Great Britain and the united colonies, think it proper to deliver you their sentiments, and to instruct you in certain points, relative to your conduct in congress, as representatives of this province.

"The experience we and our ancestors have had of the mildness and equity of the English constitution, under which we have grown up to and enjoyed a state of felicity, not exceeded among any people we know of, until the grounds of the present controversy were laid by the ministry and parliament of Great Britain, has most strongly endeared to us that form of government from whence these blessing have been derived, and makes us ardently wish for a reconciliation with the mother country, upon terms that may insure to these colonies an equal and permanent freedom.

"To this constitution we are attached, not merely by habit, but by principle, being in our judgments persuaded, it is of all known systems best calculated to secure the liberty of the subject, to guard against despotism on the one hand, and licentiousness on the other.

"Impressed with these sentiments, we warmly recommend to you, to keep constantly in your view the avowed end and purpose for which these colonies originally associated, the redress of American grievances, and securing the rights of the colonists.

"As upon the attainment of these great objects, we shall think it our greatest happiness to be thus firmly united to Great Britain, we think proper to instruct you, that should any proposition be happily made by the crown or parliament, that may lead to or lay a rational and probable ground for reconciliation, you use your utmost endeavors to cultivate and improve it into a happy settlement and lasting amity, taking care to secure the colonies against the exercise of the right assumed by parliament to tax them, and to alter and change their charters, constitutions, and internal policy, without their consent — powers incompatible with the essential securities of thee lives, liberties, and properties of the colonists.

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