On May 15, 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution authored by John Adams that was tantamount to a declaration of independence. With Richard Henry Lee, he put forth a resolution recommending that the individual colonies assume all powers of government — to secure ‘the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.‘ Not only was it passed, but with surprising unanimity. It awaited only a preamble which, as drafted by Adams, was a still more radical statement. In contrast to the resolution, Adams’s preamble put aside any possibility of reconciliation and declared the colonies immediately independent:
Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; and whereas, no answer whatever to the humble petitions of the colonies for redress of grievances and reconciliation with Great Britain has been or is likely to be given; but the whole force of that kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; and whereas it appears absolutely irreconcilable to reason and good conscience, for people of these colonies to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain … it is [therefore] necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as the defense of their lives, liberties, and properties, against hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies.
This brought on three days of fierce debate, during which Adams repeatedly took the floor, supported by Richard Henry Lee, while James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued in opposition. What John Adams said was not recorded. But as the constant battler on the floor, with all that he had written, his work on committees, his relentless energy, industry, and unyielding determination, he had emerged a leader like no other. Finally, on Wednesday, May 15, the preamble was approved. Adams was elated. “Congress passed the most important resolution that was ever taken in America.’