Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Liberty Under God
Swarms of Officers

Congress should
  • start by cutting the salaries of all federal employees by 33%
  • abolish the offices

The Declaration of Independence complains:

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance."

From a stylistic point, the language is from the Bible:

Consider, for example, grievance 10: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." The language is Biblical and conjures up Old Testament images of "swarms" of flies and locusts covering the face of the earth, "so that the land was darkened," and devouring all they found until "there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field" (Exodus 10:14-15). It also recalls the denunciation, in Psalms 53:4, of "the workers of iniquity . . . who eat up my people as they eat bread," and the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28:51 that an enemy nation "shall eat the fruit of thy cattle, and the fruit of thy land until thou be destroyed: which also shall not leave thee either corn, wine, or oil, or the increase of thy kine, or flocks of thy sheep, until he have destroyed thee." For some readers the religious connotations may have been enhanced by "substance," which was used in theological discourse to signify "the Essence or Substance of the Godhead" and to describe the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ had "coupled the substance of his flesh and the substance of bread together, so we should receive both."(22)
       From the revolutionaries' view, however, the primary advantage of the wording of charge 10 was probably its purposeful ambiguity. The "multitude of New Offices" referred to the customs posts that had been created in the 1760s to control colonial smuggling. The "swarms of Officers" that were purportedly eating out the substance of the colonies' three million people numbered about fifty in the entire continent. But Congress could hardly assail George III as a tyrant for appointing a few dozen men to enforce the laws against smuggling, so it clothed the charge in vague, evocative imagery that gave significance and emotional resonance to what otherwise might have seemed a rather paltry grievance.(23)
       (22) [Thomas Hutchinson], Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia . . . (1776), p. 16; Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), p. 601; Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiasticall Politie (1594 1596), vol. 5, sec. 67, p. 178.
       (23) Between 1764 and 1766 England added twenty-five comptrollers, four surveyors general, and one plantation clerk to its customs service in America. It added seventeen more officials in 1767 with the creation of a Board of Customs Commissioners to reside in Boston. These appointments may also have generated a mild ripple effect, resulting in the hiring of a few lesser employees to help with office chores and customs searches, but there is no way to know, since the records are now lost. See Thomas C. Barrow, Trade and Empire: The British Customs Service in Colonial America, 1660 1775 (1967), pp. 186-187, 220-221.
Declaration of Independence - The Stylistic Artistry - National Archives and Records Administration

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