Exactly two years before passage of the Declaration of Independence, a short series of resolutions passed by residents of Orangetown, N.Y. set forth the foundational principles that supported the colonists’ quest for Independence.

The resolutions were part of a larger response to the Coercive Acts that quickly spread through the colonies. Parliament passed the acts in early 1774 to punish the colonies — particularly Massachusetts — after the Boston Tea Party. The four acts that made up the Coercive Acts were the Boston Port Act closing the Boston Port, the Massachusetts Government act stripping virtually all authority from the colonial government, the Administration of Justice Act stripping authority from local courts, and the Quartering Act allowing British troops to take over private buildings.

John Haring most likely penned the Orangetown Resolutions. He was a prominent New York judge and became an ardent patriot. He went on to serve in the First Continental Congress and in numerous positions in the New York state government. The resolutions were approved during a meeting of “Freeholders and inhabitants of Orangetown and Province of New York” on July 4, 1774.

The resolutions reveal that the American Revolution was at its core, a constitutional crisis.

The resolutions pledged to support of the king and defend “his crown and dignity,” but with a caveat. This defense was limited to “every constitutional measure.”

The resolutions went on to defend the recent parliamentary measures as unconstitutional.

“However well disposed we are towards his majesty, we cannot see the late acts of Parliament imposing duties upon us, and the act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our abhorrence of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction.” [Emphasis added]

The resolutions went beyond a simple declaration. They established that the people were “duty-bound” to resist such usurpation.

“We are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure to obtain a repeal of acts, not only destructive to us, but which, of course, must distress thousands in the mother country.”

The resolutions included a practical strategy – a boycott.

“Stopping of all exportation and importation to and from Great Britain and the West Indies would be the most effectual method to obtain a speedy repeal.”

This spirit of resistance only grew in the ensuing years, leading to the Declaration of Independce on the same date two years later.

While the Orangetown Resolutions only represented a small number of people in a single New York County, they succinctly articulated and cemented the revolutionary principles of constitutional fidelity, restraint of government power, and resistance to usurpation.

Mike Maharrey

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