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The Declaration of Independence1 can be thought of as the “Birth Certificate” of a nation. It established that people have certain Inalienable Rights including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The rights people possess come from our Creator (God) and not from people of power. Human rights are also endowed equally to all people. Finally, individuals have the right to defend themselves and others against any tyrannical forces that jeopardize their human rights and freedom. Please make note that the official document title of the Declaration is “The unanimous Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America.” The words unanimous and united are used as adjectives, not nouns. The colonies represented the “States of America”, and all had agreed with the list of grievances.

The “Grievances” refers to a section from the Declaration of Independence where the colonists listed their issues with the British government, specifically King George III. The United States Declaration of Independence contains 27 grievances (injustices) against the decisions and actions of King George III of Great Britain. Historians have noted the similarities with John Locke’s works and the context of the grievances. Additional references for this section can be found on Wikipedia.

Before embarking on a lesson regarding the Declaration of Independence, it is worthy to reflect on why our Colonies were upset enough to go to war, sacrifice, and die for freedom. In all history, there is “Cause and Effect.” The Declaration is all about the cause and effect of the tyrannical rule of a king on “human rights.” The second paragraph of the Declaration could not be clearer:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Where do our roots, this desire to be a free people come from? The path of history is quite long and deep. Our Declaration has become the gateway for understanding liberty. The tablet held in the hand of the Statute of Liberty shows the date of the United States Declaration of Independence, in Roman numerals, July IV, MDCCLXXVI. She welcomes all with the understanding of the price of liberty. Our liberty comes from our Constitution, which guarantees those God-given rights. 

To fully understand our nation, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, we must look to two vastly different events and parts of the world in the concept of “human rights.” Before the founding of our country, our forefathers had already experienced the “Dark Ages.” The Medieval Inquisition started around 1184 and continued well into the 1400s. Non-believers were those who did not subscribe to a specific model of beliefs. In 1401, the King of England issued an edict to immediately arrest anyone who preached religious thoughts against the king’s brand of religion. A second offense resulted in immediate death. Colonists had fled this type of persecution.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta means “The Great Charter” and is one of the most famous documents in the world. Originally issued by King John of England as a practical solution to the political crisis he faced in 1215. The Magna Carta established the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law for the first time. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, the Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to King John’s rule. However, buried within them were a few fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of kings and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all “free people” the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles would be echoed later in the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

The Iroquois Constitution (Great Law of Peace)

There is a tendency to think of any formal constitution as something contemporary, developed as part of the creation of the United States. However, the Iroquois beat us to that goal somewhere around 1450. The Iroquois created the Great Law of Peace2, also known as the Hiawatha Wampum, to stop neighboring tribes from fighting with each other. It was not a paper document, but a belt of beads made from the quahog shells and woven into a historical record through the patterns of purple and white beads. Hiawatha was a pre-colonial Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, he was a leader of the Onondaga or the Mohawk, or both. To convince the five tribes of the Iroquois that unity provided safety, Hiawatha took a single arrow, grabbed each end, and easily broke it. He then gathered five arrows in a bundle and showed there was superior strength as a group. The bundle of arrows could not be broken easily. This concept would later be emulated in our nation’s great seal, where the eagle holds 13 arrows in its left claw. The unity of the Colonies was one critical element behind their success during the Revolution.

The purpose of the Iroquois Constitution was to prevent tribal interference in everyone’s daily lives and meant to enhance individual freedom by separating their civilian governing bodies from the military and religious affairs. The Great Law allowed differing beliefs among tribes to coexist and recognized the importance of one’s beliefs, no matter what their origin. There was outright freedom of religion in the “The Great Law of Peace.” While beliefs may have differed within tribes, all accepted the concept of one Creator of the Universe.

Our early forefathers, especially Ben Franklin, noticed that the Iroquois tied their tribes together into a perfect union, much like we see in our preamble of the U.S. Constitution. Both stressed unity and provided liberty for posterity. The Great Law defined the number of representatives, their powers, and requirements, just as our Constitution does. The formal creation of an executive office was also defined by the Iroquois. The Iroquois Law also defined checks and balances and created a centralized government. It included a guarantee of free speech, defined levels of authority between tribes, and gave individual rights to each tribe just as we have done with our States. Concepts like the forbidding of quartering, and the unauthorized entry or seizure of one’s lodge, was also a principle of The Great Law. The same can be found in our own Article 3 of the Bill of Rights.

How to Use This Material

To use the material, herein, take time to understand each grievance. If time allows, search out the historical events to give context to each. Discuss why a person would be upset if that specific right(s) was infringed. Then go to the U.S. Constitution and/or Bill of Rights to see and understand why these two governing documents are so important to the freedom found in the United States.

Grievance 1

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”

It is most important in understanding the Declaration that Colonies had their own form of government. These were much like our state governments today. The Colonial assemblies passed various legislation, including ones on governing their slaves, creating colonial currencies, and requesting representatives to be sent to Parliament, but the King withheld his approval (called Assent). Britain’s Henry Seymour Conway, the Secretary of State for the Southern Department, informed the Americans that Parliament would not pursue legal action against colonists who had actively protested the Stamp Acts, provided that the assemblies would pay for any public property that had been destroyed. In complying with this demand, the Assembly of Massachusetts stated it would be “wholesome and necessary for the public good” to grant “free pardon” to all who had been engaged in the protests and passed an act stating such. However, King George III refused to ratify it. Self-government was at the heart of the Founding Fathers’ concerns. Each time the King refused to ratify any colonial legislation; he intensified their concerns. As this is the first grievance, it carries special importance. Some colonies had passed measures intended to slow the pace of slavery. However, any time such laws were introduced by local colonial assemblies, they “were routinely vetoed by the British Board of Trade, the Secretary of State, and King George III”.

Constitutional Response

The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution establishes that it will be the people of the United States in total and complete charge of what was then known as the Colonies. The purpose was to form a more perfect union (country), establish justice, maintain domestic tranquility (peace), provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to the people and for their posterity. In Article I, Section I, all powers to do this were explicitly granted to a Congress, consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives. The Congress is to be a representative government, comprised of people freely elected by the citizens. In the case of the House of Representatives, the number of seats is apportioned by the census every ten years. Senators were originally selected by the governor of a state. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution changed this to the direct election of U.S. Senators by each State.

Grievance 2

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”

This is an indictment of the King’s appointed governors in the colonies, who had refused to endorse laws colonists viewed as conducive and necessary to the public good. The Massachusetts Assembly passed a law in 1770 for taxing Government officers in that colony, but the King ordered the governor to withhold his approval. By doing this, the King violated his colonial charter with the colonies and showed little regard for their local power. John Locke, an English philosopher of the times, had a great impact on the thinking of colonists. John Locke’s social contract theories differed in one key aspect from others. Locke felt that mankind’s natural state was freedom and individuals entered a contract with other people to ensure that freedom. He considered “Neglect” as a valid reason for dissolving a government.

Constitutional Response

The Constitution’s articles, and the subsequent Amendments, specify the responsibilities and powers of our government. They are listed in Article I, Sec. 8; Articles 2-5; Amendments 8, 16, 19, 20, 23, and 26. These powers are derived from one of the following categories:

  1. Defense, war prosecution, peace, foreign relations, foreign commerce, and interstate commerce;
  2. The protection of citizens’ constitutional rights (e.g. the right to vote) and ensuring that slavery remains illegal;
  3. Establishing federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court of the United States;
  4. Copyright protection;
  5. Coining (and printing) money;
  6. Establishing post offices and post roads (a road designated for the transportation of postal mail);
  7. Establishing a national set of universal weights and measures; and
  8. Taxation when needed to raise revenue to perform “these” essential functions. (Only the above list)

The list above is the only prerogatives of the Federal Government. The 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that all prerogatives not explicitly given to the Federal Government, or explicitly prohibited by the states, are reserved to the states or the people (citizens). Our Federal Government has been prohibited via our Constitution from handling any issues not explicitly listed in the Constitution; their prerogatives were limited to what the Constitution explicitly outlines here.

Grievance 3

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

Chapter 19 of the book entitled “Two Treatises of Government” written by John Locke notes that “when such a single person, or prince, sets up his own arbitrary will, in place of the laws, which are the will of the society, declared by the legislative, then the legislative is changed.” Locke lists changing the legislature without the people’s knowledge or consent as another situation that justifies the dissolution of the government. In summary, King George III was willfully negating the will of the people by ignoring and/or negating laws that were established by the people of the colonies.

Constitutional Response

Today, we have no prince or king. We have a president. The president’s responsibilities are outlined in Article II of the Constitution and include:

  1. The power to call state units of the National Guard into service. Only in times of emergency can the President claim power if such power has been given the power by Congress to manage national security or the economy.
  2. The President can receive ambassadors and work with leaders of other nations. With Senate approval, the president can make treaties.
  3. The President has the power to nominate the heads of governmental departments, judges to federal courts, and justices to the United States Supreme Court. However, all nominations must then be approved by the Senate.
  4. The power to issue pardons for federal offenses.
  5. The power to convene Congress for special sessions.
  6. The power to veto legislation approved by Congress. However, the veto is limited. It is not a line-item veto, meaning that the veto cannot be for only specific parts of legislation. A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote by Congress.

The President’s powers are limited by the Constitution. It is only through required negotiation and collaboration between the president and Congress that our nation’s initiatives, concerns, and problems are to be addressed. Additional presidential powers can only come from the abdication of powers originally reserved for Congress.

Grievance 4

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, and also uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”

British General Thomas Gage was instrumental in shaping Parliament’s retaliatory Intolerable (Coercive) Acts (1774), by which the port of Boston was closed until the destroyed tea (Boston Tea Party) could be paid for. He was largely responsible for the inclusion of the inflammatory provision for the quartering of soldiers in private homes. Gage is chiefly remembered in U.S. history as the protagonist of the British cause while he served as military governor in Massachusetts from 1774 to 1775. On May 20, 1774, the British Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act, which nullified the Massachusetts Charter of 1691. This allowed Britain’s acting governor Thomas Gage to dissolve the local provincial assembly. This forced the Massachusetts government to meet instead in Salem. Gage also ordered the march of the redcoats on Lexington and Concord (April 1775), which was intended to uncover ammunition caches and capture the leading Revolutionary agitator, Samuel Adams.

Constitutional Response

In the 10th amendment to the Bill of Rights, it is stated that the powers not delegated to the United States directly by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The Federal government cannot dissolve the government of any U.S. State. There is also a response in the 2nd amendment of the Bill of Rights, assuring that the right of the people to keep arms, is not infringed.

Grievance 5

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

The Massachusetts Assembly had sent a letter to other colonial Assemblies in 1768 urging mutual co-operation in asserting the principle that Great Britain had no right to tax the colonists without their consent. This is clearly where the motto, “No taxation without representation” came from. King George III demanded that the Massachusetts Assembly rescind the resolutions expressed in their letter. He ordered the governor to dissolve the Massachusetts Assembly immediately if they refused. Other colonial assemblies were warned by the Government not to follow the lead of Massachusetts. The North Carolina General Assembly and Virginia General Assembly were dissolved for denying the right of the King to tax the colonies or to extradite Americans from the colonies to stand trial. In 1774, several other colonial assemblies discussed forming a general Congress with delegates from all the colonies. King George III dissolved nearly all those who had entertained the ideas noted in the Massachusetts letter.

Constitutional Response

Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution empowers Congress to levy taxes against the States and/or their citizens. Such taxes are to emanate from the House of Representatives and be approved by the Senate. Section 8 establishes the purposes for such taxation and appropriate controls for levying taxes both at the Federal and State levels. Since each state is represented by a properly apportioned number of Representatives (based on population via census) and has two Senators, the equality of representation for purposes of taxation is therefore maintained.

As to whether the U.S. Federal Government can dissolve a state government, the answer is no. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. The U.S. Congress, with the concurrence of the Presidents of the United States of America, could potentially expel a state from the union. Expulsion, however, doesn’t change that state’s Sovereignty. The United States of America was created by combining 13 sovereign states (colonies). Article IV of the Constitution, Section 3 defines a process to add new states with the consent of the existing States and Congress. No new States can be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State, or any State formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

Grievance 6

“He has refused for a long time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the meantime, exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

The Assembly of New York refused to comply with the provisions of the Mutiny Act in 1766. The Mutiny Acts were an almost 200-year series of annual Acts passed by the Parliament of England, the Parliament of Great Britain, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom for governing, regulating, provisioning, and funding the English and later British Army. A new Mutiny Act was passed each year until 1879. The Mutiny Act allows court-martial for other military crimes besides mutiny, sedition, and desertion. Modifications to the Mutiny Act allowed court-martial trial of soldiers for acts prohibited by the Crown’s articles of war. In response to New York’s refusal to comply, the British Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act 1767 which suspended the Assembly’s legislative authority. The Assembly of Massachusetts was then dissolved in July 1768 and was not permitted to meet again until May 1769.

Constitutional Response

The English kings were endowed with the power not only to initiate war but the power to raise and maintain armies and navies. Aware historically that these powers had been used to the detriment of the liberties and the well-being of Englishmen, in 1688, a declaration was instituted in English law that standing armies could not be maintained without the consent of Parliament. Our Founding Fathers had those same concerns.

The authority and powers to raise an army, whether in peacetime or war reside in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution. This authority resides with Congress with no appropriation of money to be for a longer term than two years. This section refers to the President as the “commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States.” This means that once a war was declared, it would then be the responsibility of the President, as the commander-in-chief, to direct the war. The Congress holds the authority to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval Forces. Congress is granted the authority to call forth the army to execute the laws of the union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.

Grievance 7

“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose, obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

There had been a large influx of German immigrants coming to America. King George III wanted to discourage such immigration. The king and Parliament were concerned over the increasing power of the colonies themselves. The ideals expressed by German immigrants were conservative by nature. Most preferred to be free of British rule and did not practice the religion of the Anglican Church. This population shift was seen by Britain as adding to the growing tensions the king was having with the colonies. After the peace of 1763 (French and Indian War), few people settled west of the Alleghenies. King George III had issued a Royal Proclamation of 1763 which outlined the division and administration of the newly conquered territory. It established relations between the government of Canada and the First Nations (native Indians). Included in its provisions were assurances to the Indian populations that there would be no further expansion past lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. History tells us, however, that this would be only a temporary impediment to a rising tide of westward-bound settlers.

Constitutional Response

In Article I, Section 8, the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the responsibility “To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization,” determining how immigrants can become citizens. The Constitution allows immigrants who become naturalized citizens to serve in any government office except for one. In Article II, Section 1 the Constitution affirms that “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

Grievance 8

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.”

Parliament deprived the people of Massachusetts the right to elect their judges in 1774. Instead, the King appointed all the colony’s judges. The same act deprived the colonists of the benefit of trial by jury, and the “administration of justice” was obstructed. Other colonies expressed similar grievances concerning the courts of law.

Constitutional Response

The right to trial by jury in a criminal case resides in both Article III, Section 2 of the federal Constitution “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury” and the 6th Amendment to the Bill of Rights “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” This section assures local jurists, the right to call witnesses and an attorney. The 7th Amendment to the Bill of Rights has two clauses. The first, known as the Preservation Clause, provides: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved.” The 7th Amendment also establishes the types of cases juries are required to decide by requiring “Common Law” to apply. Common law is a body of unwritten laws based on legal precedents established by prior courts. Common law influences the decision-making process in unusual cases where the outcome cannot be determined based on existing statutes or written rules of law. The U.S. common-law system evolved from the British tradition that spread to North America during the 17th- and 18th-century colonial periods.

Grievance 9

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

Judges and royally appointed governors did not depend upon the colonists for their income. The judges were dependent on King George III and were subject to his directions. Yet those salaries came from taxes and duties on the colonists. The American colonists saw that this led their officers to be sympathetic to Parliament but not to the colonies. The Colonial assemblies protested these measures, leading to the formation of the Committees of Correspondence in 1774.

Constitutional Response

There are both Federal judges and State judges. The Federal requirements of this part are found in Article II, Section 2, and apply to principal officers, in contrast to inferior officers, whose appointments are addressed in a later clause. Although the Senate must confirm principal officers, including ambassadors and Supreme Court justices, Congress may still require that any inferior officers whose office is “established by law” also be confirmed by the Senate. For State judges, State Constitutional laws establish the methods of appointment. Compensation is either Federal or State.

Grievance 10

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

After the passage of the Stamp Act, stamp distributors were appointed in every town. In 1766 and 1767, acts for the collection of duties created “swarms of officers“, all of whom received high salaries. In 1768, admiralty and vice-admiralty courts were also established. This increased, even more, the number of officers. The high salaries and extensive perquisites of all of these were paid with the people’s money, and thus the term, “swarms of officers ate out their substance.”

Constitutional Response

King George III imposed a tax on official documents in American colonies. This included bonds, licenses, certificates, and any other official documents as well as more mundane items such as plain parchment and even playing cards. Unfortunately, the Stamp Act is still alive and well today. It is a tax, defined and approved lawfully by our House of Representatives and placed into law through Senate approvals. Many states have similar taxes. The sale of property carries title taxes, and the sale of stocks and bonds carries Federal and State tax implications. There are licensing fees (taxes), sales taxes, and luxury taxes, all defined by and approved by our Congress and/or State legislators. The right of citizens to protest taxes is handled through the ballot box. Therefore, the integrity of our voting system is critical. If the people can fairly elect their representatives, both Federal and State, the swarms of officers (Internal Revenue Service) or (County Tax Assessors) will heed the will of the people.

The word “vote” (and its variants “voted”, “votes”, “voting”, etc.) occurs a total of 39 times throughout the Constitution of the United States and the 27 Amendments. However, the Founding Fathers did not devote any reference to the “right to vote” by “We the People” anywhere in the original Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. The closest reference to the people’s “right to vote” is in Article 1, Section 2, about the election of members to the House of Representatives. However, in our Constitution and its amendments, the mechanics of election and voting are well-defined:

  • Article 1, Section 3, Article 1, The Senate, Vice President
  • Article 1, Section 7, the process of creating laws
  • Article 2, Section 1
  • Amendment 12 – Choosing the President, Vice-President.
  • Amendment 14 – Citizenship Rights
  • Amendment 15 – Race No Bar to Vote
  • Amendment 17 – Senators Elected by Popular Vote (before this, Senators were chosen by State legislative bodies)
  • Amendment 23 – Presidential Vote for District of Columbia
  • Amendment 25 – Presidential Disability and Succession
  • Amendment 26 – Voting Age Set to 18 Years

Grievance 11

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

In 1763, Britain and France signed the Treaty of Paris (1763) to end the Seven Years’ War. Parliament realized they needed to keep a permanent army in the American colonies in order both to keep the French from reasserting their control of their former territories and to prevent open warfare between the colonists and the Native Americans along the frontier. Although the colonists initially welcomed the protection provided by the British soldiers, by the 1760s and early 1770s they had increasingly come to see the army as nothing more than a tool for Parliament to enforce various revenue acts (Taxes). It would be the British military occupation of Boston by Thomas Gage that would lead the Second Continental Congress to include this grievance in the Declaration of Independence.

Constitutional Response

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution lists 17 separate powers that are granted to Congress. Six of those powers deal exclusively with the national defense, more than any other specific area of governance. This section grants the full range of authorities necessary for establishing the defense of the nation as it was then understood. Congress is given specific authority to declare war, raise and support armies, provide for a navy, establish the rules for the operation of American military forces, organize and arm the militias of the states, and specify the conditions for converting the militias into national service.

Grievance 12

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”

Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, assumed control of the civil government as royal governor of Massachusetts in 1774. Both his positions were obtained by the royal appointment of King George III. The appointments were also made without the approval of the people or the provincial government of Massachusetts. (Massachusetts Government Act). The purpose of Gage’s role was to enforce the payment of customs, quell insurrection and resistance, and execute punitive measures. The Continental Congress considered that the police power of the state had been removed from any accountability to the people. Their local, duly elected leaders had no control over any of the unjust policies imposed by Thomas Gage and Great Britain.

Constitutional Response

The Insurrection Act (found in Section 253 of Title 10 of the U.S. Code), signed March 3, 1807, gives U.S. presidents the authority to deploy the active-duty military to maintain or restore peace in times of crisis. There are five circumstances:

  1. If asked by a state legislature
  2. If asked by a state Governor
  3. If there is a threat that a federal law will be broken
  4. If the “constituted authorities of that state are unable, fail, or refuse to protect the rights, privileges, or immunity of any part or class of the people”
  5. If domestic violence opposes or obstructs the execution of federal law
Grievance 13

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:”

The “others” with whom King George III is linked are said to have been the members of the British Parliament. The Americans refused to recognize Parliament’s authority over the colonies. This grievance was triggered by Britain’s establishment of a Board of Trade. The Board of Trade could act independently of colonial legislation through its resident commissioners of customs. This meant the appointed commissioners were granted the power to enforce revenue laws. This concept did not exist in any of the colonies’ constitutions. Within this issue was the establishment also the remodeling of the admiralty courts to exclude trial by jury. Almost unlimited power was also given to the king’s appointed governor, and the people were indeed subjected to “a jurisdiction foreign to their constitution” by these members of royalty.

Constitutional Response

Article I, Section 8, specifically grants the Federal Government the right to regulate commerce among the several states. This is known as the Commerce Clause. State law cannot intend to regulate or substantially conflict with interstate commerce. The “substantially conflict with provision is known as the Dormant Commerce Clause. Simply put, the Commerce Clause allows the Federal Government to regulate any activity that affects interstate commerce. This is just one of many areas of law that are handled by Congress. The redress of the citizens is through our judicial system and the ballot box.

Grievance 14

“For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:”

In 1765, Parliament passed an amendment to the Mutiny Act commonly referred to as the Quartering Act. It allowed soldiers stationed in the colonies to request shelter from any citizen and created a punishment for refusal. This act allowed army officers to appropriate private property to quarter their troops without the consent of the property’s owners. When General Thomas Gage occupied Boston in September 1774, he relied on this act to quarter (house) his troops.

Constitutional Response

The 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights is quite specific and to the point: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” The reference to the law is to assure fair treatment and compensation.

Grievance 15

“For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”

In 1768, two citizens of Annapolis, Maryland, died in a violent dispute with a group of British soldiers. The trial was controversial. In the face of overwhelming evidence against the soldiers, the defendants were acquitted.

Constitutional Response

Article III, Section 2 provides: “The trial of all crimes shall be by jury and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes have been committed.

The 6th Amendment of the Bill of Rights says: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.”

For civil matters, the 7th Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides: “In all suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined by a court of the United States.”

Grievance 16

“For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world”.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, the Navigation Acts had been passed to control trade with the colonies of Spain and France, hindering significant sources of revenue for the American colonists.

Constitutional Response

The U.S. Constitution, through the Commerce Clause, gives Congress exclusive power over trade activities between the states and foreign countries. Trade within a state is regulated exclusively by the states themselves. Federal agencies that help in trade regulation include the Department of Commerce (DOC) and the International Trade Administration (ITA). The DOC is an agency of the executive branch that promotes international trade, economic growth, and technological advancement. The ITA is a branch of the DOC that works to improve the international trade position of the United States.

Grievance 17

“For imposing taxes on us without our consent:”

In addition to the revenue taxes imposed on many goods and services, there was the Molasses Act of 1733, The Currency Act of 1764, The Sugar Act of1764, The Stamp Act of 1765, The Townshend Acts of 1767 (Also called Intolerable Acts), and The Tea Act of 1773 to name a few. The constant implementation of taxes worsened tensions between the colonists and the British government. Most colonists believed that representation was needed as a justification for being taxed. Britain had incurred a large debt due to the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War was part of this) and was seeking revenues from the Colonies to retire these debts.

Constitutional Response

Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution empowers Congress to levy taxes against the States and/or their citizens. Such taxes are to emanate from the House of Representatives and be approved by the Senate. Section 8 establishes the purposes for such taxation and appropriate controls for levying taxes both at the Federal and State levels. Since each state is represented by a properly apportioned number of Representatives (based on population via census) and has two Senators, the equality of representation for purposes of taxation is maintained.

Grievance 18

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Jury trial:”

After colonial governments were driven from Boston in 1768, an act was passed by the British Parliament placing violations of revenue laws under the jurisdiction of the British admiralty courts. Here, offenders were tried, but the prosecutors were biased towards Great Britain.

Constitutional Response

Article III, Section 2 provides: “The trial of all crimes shall be by jury and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes have been committed.”

The 6th Amendment of the Bill of Rights says: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.”

For civil matters, the 7th Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides: “In all suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined by a court of the United States.”

Grievance 19

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:”

On April 15, 1774, Lord North introduced a bill in Parliament, entitled “A bill for the impartial administration of justice in the cases of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the laws, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England.” This bill was known as the Administration of Justice Act. If any person was indicted for murder in a specific colony, or any other capital offense, or indicted for rioting, the resistance of the British magistrate, or impeding the revenue laws in the smallest degree, the accused could, at the option of the Governor, or, in his absence, of the Lieutenant Governor, be taken to another colony, or transported from the colonies to England for trial.

Constitutional Response

Article III, Section 2 provides: “The trial of all crimes shall be by jury and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes have been committed.”

The 6th Amendment of the Bill of Rights says: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.”

Grievance 20

“For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:”

This refers to the Quebec Act of 1774 which expanded the use of French civil law in Quebec (as compared to English common law) and expanded Canadian borders into what is now the Midwestern states of the United States.

The Quebec Act also granted emancipation to the Catholic, French-speaking settlers of the province. The act repealed the loyalty oath and reinstated French civil law in combination with British criminal law. While the French-speaking settlers were given the freedom to participate in the Catholic religion, the colonists were still required to participate only in the Angelical religion.

Constitutional Response

Article IV, Section 3 gives Congress the power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.

The 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights established freedom of religion.

Grievance 21

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

This is a restatement of a charge already made, and refers to the alteration of the Massachusetts charter, to make judges and other officers independent of the people, and subservient to the crown. The British-appointed governor was empowered to remove and appoint all judges, attorney-generals, provost-marshals, and justices of the peace, and to appoint sheriffs independent of the council. As the sheriffs chose jurors, trial by jury became mostly nonexistent. Before this event, the people had been allowed, by their charter, to select their jurors. Now the entire matter was placed in the hands of the British government.

Constitutional Response

The US Constitution states in Article 6 states:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

“The Senators and Representatives of the Federal Government, and the members of the State legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and the States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support the Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Therefore, any state that joins the United States by ratifying the Constitution or petitioning for admission to the Union must make the US Constitution superior to their state constitutions and the laws made under the State constitutions. In addition, clause 3 requires government officials to take an oath or affirmation to support the U.S. Constitution.

Grievance 22

“For suspending our Legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever”.

This, too, is another restatement of a prior grievance. Suppression of the Legislature occurred in New York, and in several cases, the governors, after dissolving Colonial Assemblies, assumed the right to make proclamations that stood in the place of existing law.

Constitutional Response

Article I, Section 7, and 8 empower Congress through the House of Representatives to pass legislation. Each state is represented by a properly apportioned number of Representatives (based on population via census) and has two Senators. The equality of representation for purposes of redress is therefore maintained.

Grievance 23

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.”

In his message to the British Parliament early in 1775, George III declared the colonists to be in a state of open rebellion. By sending armies to the Americas, King George III “abdicated government,” by this it was meant that the King declared them no longer under his protection. Shortly after, the Prohibitory Act was passed by Parliament. The King then sanctioned the acts of governors in employing Native Americans to quell his rebellion and negotiated to hire Hessian German soldiers.

Constitutional Response

The colonists were taking the position that King George III had declared war against the colonies. U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, gives Congress the power to declare war and raise armies and a navy. Congress can make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces. They can call forth a Militia (military) to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions. The framers of the Constitution were reluctant to concentrate too much influence in the hands of too few. Therefore, they denied the office of the President the authority to go to war unilaterally.

Grievance 24

“He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

In the years before the American Revolution, Lord Dunmore, whose roots ran back to Scotland, served as the Colonial Governor in both New York and Virginia. He was a staunch supporter of Great Britain and its Parliament’s policies. Dunmore had no problem taking issue with the patriot cause, especially with Patrick Henry. Dunmore tried to dissolve the Virginia House of Burgesses and then attempted to deny the patriot militias access to guns, powder, and shot. It was a challenge to Dunmore that Patrick Henry famously shouted, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Lord Dunmore ordered the seizure of several American merchant vessels, and several naval assaults were made upon the colonies, disrupting life in the affected towns.

British Captain Henry Mowat burned Falmouth (October 18, 1775 – Now Portland) with a fleet of Royal Navy vessels. Mowat directed the flotilla’s 9-hour bombardment which included incendiary shots. The town’s winter food supplies were destroyed. The attack was the only major event in what was supposed to be a campaign of retaliation against ports that supported Patriot activities in the early stages of the American Revolutionary War. Residents of Machias took it upon themselves the same year to stop British commerce between Boston and the towns further down the East Coast. The first naval battle of the American Revolution happened when the patriots captured the British ship, Margaretta.

Constitutional Response

Refer to the Constitutional powers to declare and wage war.

Grievance 25

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

The hiring of German Hessian Soldiers for use against the Thirteen Colonies was seen as an outrage by the Americans. The Hessian army was noted for its brutal tactics. They frequently used their bayonets on even those who might surrender. This brutality had enraged George Washington to the point that at the surrender of Trenton (crossing of Delaware river) by the Hessians, George Washington refused to accept the sword of surrender directly from the Hessian commanding officer, Colonel Johann Rall. During the battle Rall was mortally wounded, dying later that evening.

Constitutional Response

There is no direct Constitutional response to this grievance. It was most difficult for the colonists to deal with this uncivilized behavior.

Grievance 26

“He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.”

An act of Parliament passed toward the close of December 1775, authorized the capture of all American vessels, and directed the treatment of the crews of armed vessels to be impressed and not kept prisoners of war. Impressment was the taking of men into a military or naval force by compulsion, with or without notice. This act was even condemned on the floor of Parliament as unworthy of a Christian people, and “a refinement of cruelty unknown among savage nations.”

Constitutional Response

There is no direct Constitutional response to this grievance. The idea is more appropriately classified with the long-standing position of making sure all citizens are returned from wars in foreign countries. The idea that colonial citizens could be forced into serving with the enemy was viewed as savagery.

Grievance 27

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”

This is a complex grievance. Colonists wanted to expand west. King George III had established a treaty with the American Indians to stop all immigration west of the Appalachian Mountains. This subjected tribes to take sides in the Revolution. Those aligning with the British took the position that their word and treaty required such cooperation. Of course, this angered the colonists.

Constitutional Response

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that defines, constrains, or limits the expansion of the colonies westward. Because most tribes supported Great Britain because of a prior treaty, after the end of the Revolution, they were considered enemies and losers. No considerations were given to indigenous property rights. Lands were absorbed into the United States as expansion took place.


The purpose of this resource is to demonstrate that the U.S. Constitution and its corresponding Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) were developed by people experiencing real issues with their governing body (Great Britain). Their freedoms had been stripped from them; they became subjects to a tyrannical king. Without our Constitution, the United States would not remain One Nation Under God. Our Constitution and our rights are worthy of defending as if life and freedom both depended on it. Why, because they do!