Rhode Island and Independence

There is a prevailing myth perpetuated by nationalists since the late 18th century–Hamilton, Marshall, Story, Webster, Lincoln–that the Union predated the States and therefore is indissoluble. This has become the accepted narrative of early American history. The Pledge of Allegiance has codified that narrative. But it is simply not true, and the historic record proves it to be a sham. I quote from the Providence Rhode Island Gazette, 14 May 1774:

“It seems to be the universal opinion in America, that the Union of the Colonies is of the greatest Importance to their Security, and therefore ought to be pursued by every good Man in this Country. It is hoped that the Wisdom of this great People will ever be exerted to make the Union perpetual; and for this Purpose it is proposed that there be an Assembly of the AMERICAN STATES, consisting of Deputies from the Representative Body in each Colony, to form a League and COVENANT for the Colonies to enter into, and fix the UNION upon a basis which may, by the Blessing of Heaven, be durable as the World, and lay a foundation for Freedom and Happiness in America to all future Ages.”

At first glance, this quote may seem to support the nationalists. After all, the paper advocated a fixed and “perpetual” Union, but it is clear that Rhode Island believed every colony to be an independent entity which would send delegates to an “Assembly of the American States” as a “League and Covenant.” They hoped it would be “durable” but experience showed that all contracts could be broken.

Rhode Island broke its perpetual allegiance to Great Britain by declaring its independence on 4 May 1776, two months before the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The historian Charles Lippitt wrote in 1907, “From that point, Rhode Island became a free and independent State.” It has never ceased to be so.

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