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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: Northern Front, 1775-1777
George Washington and the Declaration of Independence, July 1776

By the summer of 1776, American and British forces had been engaged in armed conflict for fifteen months. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence changed the purpose and nature of that conflict. The two documents that follow concern Washington's reaction to receiving the Declaration of Independence from Congress. What is Washington's response to the news? What impact does he think the Declaration will be on his army?

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George Washington, General Orders, July 9, 1776.

The Hon. The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independentStates: The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.

The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country.

Washington to Continental Congress, New York, July 10, 1776..

Sir: I am now to acknowledge the receipt of your two favors of the 4th and 6th instants, which came duly to hand, with their important inclosures. I perceive that Congress have been employed in deliberating on measures of the most interesting Nature. It is certain that it is not with us to determine in many instances what consequences will flow from our Counsels, but yet it behoves us to adopt such, as under the smiles of a Gracious and all kind Providence will be most likely to promote our happiness; I trust the late decisive part they have taken, is calculated for that end, and will secure us that freedom and those priviledges, which have been, and are refused us, contrary to the voice of Nature and the British Constitution. Agreeable to the request of Congress I caused the Declaration to be proclaimed before all the Army under my immediate Command, and have the pleasure to inform them, that the measure seemed to have their most hearty assent; the Expressions and behaviour both of Officers and Men testifying their warmest approbation of it. I have transmitted a Copy to General Ward at Boston, requesting him to have it proclaimed to the Continental Troops in that Department. . . .

General Mercer is now in the Jerseys for the purpose of receiving and ordering the Militia coming for the Flying Camp, and I have sent over our chief Engineer to view the Ground within the Neighbourhood of Amboy, and lay out some necessary Works for the Encampment, and such as may be proper at the different passes in Bergen Neck, and other places on the Jersey Shore opposite Staten Island, to prevent the Enemy making impressions and committing depredations on the Property of the Inhabitants. The Intelligence we have from a few Deserters that have come over to us, and from others, is, that General Howe has between 9. and 10.000 Men, who are chiefly landed on the Island, posted in different parts, and securing the several communications from the Jerseys with small Works and Intrenchments, to prevent our people paying them a visit; that the Islanders have all joined them, seem well disposed to favor their Cause and have agreed to take up Arms in their behalf. They look for Admiral Howe's arrival every day, with his Fleet and a large Reinforcement, are in high Spirits, and talk confidently of Success and carrying all before them when he comes. I trust through Divine Favor and our own Exertions they will be disappointed in their Views, and at all Events, any advantages they may gain will cost them very dear. If our Troops will behave well, which I hope will be the case, having every thing to contend for that Freemen hold dear, they will have to wade thro' much Blood and Slaughter before they can carry any part of our Works, if they carry them at all; and at best be in possession of a Melancholly and Mournfull Victory. May the Sacredness of our cause inspire our Soldiery with Sentiments of Heroism, and lead them to the performance of the noblest Exploits. With this Wish, I have the honor to be, etc.
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View the original documents by clicking on the links below. These documents are from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.