Principles of an American Whig

Written By North Carolina History Project

Noted for its similarities to the Declaration of Independence, “Principles of An American Whig” (1775) was written by North Carolinian and later United States Supreme Court Justice James Iredell.  The essay reveals that a budding American independence movement had been blossoming into political maturity.

Written sometime several months before July 1776, “Principles” contains three major points later reiterated in the Declaration of Independence.  First, “[t]hat mankind were intended to be happy, at least that God Almighty gave them the power of being so, if they would properly exert the means he has bestowed upon them.” Iredell’s belief in this divinely granted right was of course later echoed in the Declaration’s claim that the pursuit of happiness is a divine right. Second, Iredell argues, “That government being only means of securing freedom and happiness to the people, whenever it deviates from this end, and their freedom and happiness are in great danger of being irrevocably lost, the government is no longer entitled to their allegiance, the only consideration for which it could be justly claimed or honorably pledged being basely and tyrannically withheld.”  The aforementioned principle is echoed in the Declaration’s assertion which is summed up by historian Willis Whichard: “That the purpose of government is the protection of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that people may alter or abolish government if it becomes destructive to these ends.”  Third, as the Declaration did in greater quantity, “Principles” lists British legal abuses, including the Stamp Act and troop deployment in Massachusetts.  

To the Inhabitants of Great Britain” and “Principles,” however, did not mark Iredell’s cultural and political divorce from Great Britain, for as late as early 1776, he considered moving back to England.  In the end, he never left America and identified with his friends and neighbors in what he called “the noblest of all causes, a struggle for freedom.”