The Scotch-Irish and the Declaration of Independence

Source:The Scotch-Irish in America
Author:Samuel Swett Green

The back or upper counties of Virginia were Scotch-Irish. Their representatives got control of the House of Burgesses, and it was by their votes, and under the leadership of the young Scotchman,[47] Patrick Henry, that were passed, in opposition to the combined efforts of the old leaders of the province, those resolutions denying the validity of the Stamp Act, which roused the continent.[48]

While it cannot be allowed that the Scotch-Irish people of Mecklenburg county, North Carolina, passed resolutions May 20, 1775, declaring their independence of Great Britain, it is certain that on the 31st of that month they uttered patriotic sentiments fully abreast of the time.[49]

The men of this race showed these sentiments everywhere throughout the Colonies. Four months before the passage of the resolutions in Mecklenburg County, the freeholders of Fincastle County, Virginia, presented an address to the Continental Congress in which they declared, that if an attempt were made to dragoon them out of the privileges to which they were entitled as subjects of Great Britain and to reduce them to slavery, they were “deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender them to any power on earth but at the expense of” their “lives.”[50]

It was seventeen days before the Declaration of Independence that eighty-three able-bodied men of the Scotch-Irish town of Peterborough, N. H., signed this resolution:

“We, the subscribers, do hereby solemnly engage and promise, that we will, to the utmost of our power, at the risk of our lives and fortune, with arms, oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets and armies against the united Colonies.”[51]

It has been suggested that even after the Declaration of Independence had been adopted by Congress, it would not have been signed and promulgated but for the action of John Witherspoon, one of the delegates from New Jersey, the President of Princeton College, a Scotch Presbyterian clergyman and a descendant of John Knox. Seeing how the other representatives held back, he rose in his place, you remember, and declaring that as his gray head must soon bow to the fate of all, he preferred that it should go by the axe of the executioner rather than that the cause of independence should not prevail.[52]

Several Scotchmen and Scotch-Irishmen signed the Declaration. Professor Macloskie, a Scotch-Irish professor in Princeton College, states that the “Declaration of Independence as we have it to-day is in the handwriting of a Scotch-Irishman, Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress; was first printed by Captain Thomas Dunlap, another Scotch-Irishman, who published the first daily newspaper in America; a third Scotch-Irishman, Captain John Nixon, of Philadelphia, first read it to the people.”[53]

The passage of more than one hundred years since The Scotch-Irish in America by Henry Jones Ford was first published in 1915 has rendered the book no less fascinating and gripping. Written in a thoroughly accessible way, it tells the story of how the hardy breed of men and women, who in America came to be known as the ‘Scotch-Irish’, was forged in the north of Ireland during the seventeenth century. This book is a comprehensive and very informative account of the history of the Scotch-Irish in America.