On 28 October 1835, British Resident James Busby addressed a meeting of thirty-four northern Māori chiefs at his residence at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. He persuaded the chiefs to sign a Declaration of Independence, a move prompted partly by rumours that a Frenchman, Baron de Thierry, planned to come to New Zealand and set himself up as a sovereign leader. De Thierry also claimed to have purchased a large amount of land in the Hokianga.
The Declaration comprises four sections. The first section declares the Independent State of the United Tribes of New Zealand. The second proclaims all sovereign power to reside in the hereditary chiefs and heads of tribes and states that no other legislative power will be allowed to exist. The third section outlines the Chiefs' intentions to meet every year to make laws for the peace and good order of the country. The final section requests the King of England to be the parent of their infant state and its protector from all attempts upon its independence.
The Declaration was drawn up by Busby, the missionary Henry Williams and mission printer William Colenso. The full text, in English, is available in this transcript (15 kb)
Other chiefs were also invited to sign the Declaration of Independence, and in all, fifty-two chiefs signed. Further signings were held up because of tribal disputes and a heavy winter in 1836. Busby remained concerned about other countries' interest in New Zealand and believed the Declaration of Independence would inhibit other countries from making agreements with Māori chiefs.
Further information about the Declaration of Independence can be found on the Treaty Information Unit website and in the Waitangi Tribunal online resources for schools.