Word of the United States Declaration of Independence reaches London

August 10, 2014

 

 

On August 10, 1776, news reached London that the Americans had drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Until the Declaration of Independence formally transformed the 13 British colonies into states, both Americans and the British saw the conflict centered in Massachusetts as a local uprising within the British empire. To King George III, it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, when Parliament continued to oppose any reform and remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead hired Hessians, German mercenaries, to help the British army crush the rebellion, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

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In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence from the British monarchy. It sold more than 500,000 copies in just a few months. By the spring of 1776, support for independence had swept through the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a document declaring independence from the British king.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other British theorists. The declaration features the immortal lines “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It then goes on to present a long list of grievances that provided the American rationale for rebellion.

Source: history.com


Thomas Heyward, Jr., signed the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation

July 28, 2014

 

 

Thomas Heyward, Jr. was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and of the Articles of Confederation as a representative of South Carolina.

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Born on July 28, 1746, near Beaufort in Saint Luke’s Parish, South Carolina. His father, Daniel Heyward, had already named another son, Thomas, so the future signer added a Junior to his name to distinguish himself from his brother. Coming from a wealthy family, he was able to study law in England, where he discovered that the English looked down on Americans. Returning to South Carolina, he established a successful law practice, built a plantation called White Hall, and in 1772, was elected to the South Carolina legislature. In 1773, he married Elizabeth Mathews, sister of South Carolina Governor John Mathews; together they would have five children. In February 1776, he was elected to the Second Continental Congress. While angry with England, Heyward was uncertain if America was ready for independence. At the first trial vote on July 1, South Carolina voted to reject independence, but the next day, at the actual vote, they switched sides and voted for independence, so as not to divide the country. After signing the Declaration of Independence, Heyward returned to South Carolina to fight the British, joining the militia. In 1779, he was wounded during the successful battle of Port Royal Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina. He recovered, and a year later, helped to defend Charleston. When the British were finally successful in capturing the city in May 1780, he was among those captured. While Heyward was imprisoned in Saint Augustine, Florida, the British raided his plantation, burning White Hall and taking his 130 slaves for sale to the sugar plantations in Jamaica. When he was eventually freed, he became a judge and a state lawmaker in South Carolina. His wife, Elizabeth Mathews Heyward, would die in 1782, and four years later, he married Elizabeth Savage, with whom he would have three more children. Hayward died on March 6, 1809, at the age of 62.

He is buried in the Heyward Family Cemetery in Jasper County, South Carolina.

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A descendant of Thomas Heyward was DuBose Heyward (1885–1940), a poet, novelist and playwright who was a large influence on the Southern Renaissance and is most well-known for the 1925 and 1927 play Porgy and the libretto to the 1935 opera by George Gershwin based on the former, Porgy and Bess.

A great-nephew was Confederate General James Heyward Trapier.

Living relatives

The Gibeson, Melander, and Cramer families are living relatives of Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Sources


July 4, 1826: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Die

July 4, 2014

 

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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other, on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. There is probably no greater coincidence in American history.

Together, and as political rivals, they had done as much or more to shape the nation in those first 50 years as any two people in the country.

In many respects, the two were poles apart. Adams was a New England overachiever; Jefferson, a southern aristocrat. Adams was a Federalist; Jefferson, the classic Republican. Adams was a political animal; Jefferson was most at home on his Virginia mountaintop. But according to historian Joseph Ellis, They “came to embody the American dialogue.”

In their retirement, they exchanged a memorable correspondence in which they expressed all of their concerns for, as well as their pride in, the new nation. “You and I ought not to die,” Adams wrote Jefferson, “before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

Adams, always the more loquacious of the two, did more explaining. He wrote two letters to every one of Jefferson’s. Both worried about the future of the country, especially as it concerned the growing divide between the north and the south. “I look back with rapture on those golden days when Virginia and Massachusetts lived and acted together like a band of brothers,” Adams wrote Jefferson in 1825.

Jefferson had been asked to prepare a speech for that last 4th of July. Though ill health prevented him from delivering this valedictory, it contained some of his most stirring language. Speaking of the celebration, he wrote, “May it be to the world, what I believe it to be, the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.”

Adams, too, was asked to help celebrate the occasion in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Likewise, illness prevented him from traveling. He died at about five o’clock on the 4th. His last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Adams was wrong by about five hours.

In his concern over the relationship between these two, one night several months after Jefferson’s retirement from the Presidency in 1809, Dr. Benjamin Rush had a dream about his two good friends which he felt was important. On October 17, 1809, he wrote down an account of that dream and sent it to John Adams. In describing that dream, he related what he had seen:

“What book is that in your hands?” said I to my son Richard [who later became the Secretary of State under President James Monroe] a few nights ago in a dream. “It is the history of the United States,” said he. “Shall I read a page of it to you?” “No, no,” said I. “I believe in the truth of no history but in that which is contained in the Old and New Testaments.” “But, sir,” said my son, “this page relates to your friend Mr. Adams.” “Let me see it then,” said I. I read it with great pleasure and herewith send you a copy of it.

“1809. Among the most extraordinary events of this year was the renewal of the friendship and intercourse between Mr. John Adams and Mr. Jefferson, the two ex-Presidents of the United States. They met for the first time in the Congress of 1775. Their principles of liberty, their ardent attachment to their country. . . being exactly the same, they were strongly attracted to each other and became personal as well as political friends. . . . A difference of opinion upon the objects and issue of the French Revolution separated them during the years in which that great event interested and divided the American people. The predominance of the party which favored the French cause threw Mr. Adams out of the Chair of the United States in the year 1800 and placed Mr. Jefferson there in his stead. The former retired with resignation and dignity to his seat at Quincy, where he spent the evening of his life in literary and philosophical pursuits, surrounded by an amiable family and a few old and affectionate friends. The latter resigned the Chair of the United States in the year 1808, sick of the cares and disgusted with the intrigues of public life, and retired to his seat at Monticello, in Virginia, where he spent the remainder of his days in the cultivation of a large farm agreeably to the new system of husbandry. In the month of November 1809, Mr. Adams addressed a short letter to his friend Mr. Jefferson in which he congratulated him upon his escape to the shades of retirement and domestic happiness, and concluded it with assurances of his regard and good wishes for his welfare. This letter did great honor to Mr. Adams. It discovered a magnanimity known only to great minds. Mr. Jefferson replied to this letter and reciprocated expressions of regard and esteem. These letters were followed by a correspondence of several years in which they mutually reviewed the scenes of business in which they had been engaged, and candidly acknowledged to each other all the errors of opinion and conduct into which they had fallen during the time they filled the same station in the service of their country. Many precious aphorisms [truths], the result of observation, experience, and profound reflection, it is said, are contained in these letters. It is to be hoped the world will be favored with a sight of them. . . . These gentlemen sunk into the grave nearly at the same time, full of years and rich in the gratitude and praises of their country.”

Thru the efforts of Dr. Rush, friendship between the two former presidents was rekindled and several parts of his dream were fulfilled. As accurately described in his dream, Adams and Jefferson did again become close friends, and there did indeed follow the “correspondence of several years” described in the dream. Furthermore, the “world was favored with a sight of the letters” as entire volumes were eventually published which contained the letters written between those two in their latter years. Interestingly, seventeen years after his dream, they did “sink into the grave nearly at the same time” as the two men died within three hours of each other on the same day. Finally, both expired “full of years and rich in the gratitude of praises of their country.”

Renowned American statesman Daniel Webster was called to deliver a eulogy for Adams and Jefferson at Boston’s Faneuil Hall one month after their deaths. His speech praised both men’s achievements, saying that they would influence society for the rest of time:

“No two men now live … who, more than those we now commemorate, have … given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. Their work doth not perish with them.”

He encouraged the crowd to honor the liberty granted to them by Adams and Jefferson, saying, “let us cherish a strong affection for it, and resolve to maintain and perpetuate it. The blood of our fathers, let it not have been shed in vain; the great hope of posterity, let it not be blasted.”

In 1831 James Monroe, our Nation’s 5th President, also died on the 4th of July. In 1850 our 12th President, Zachary Taylor participated in July 4th activities at the Washington monument. It was a blistery day and the president became quite ill. He died five days later on July 9th.


Dr. Ladd Addresses the Governor of South Carolina, July 4, 1785

July 4, 2014

A Dr. Ladd, of Charleston, South Carolina, delivered the following address before the Governor of the State, and a large number of other gentlemen, on the 4th of July, 1785, being the anniversary of American independence. It will present the views of the patriots of that day in reference to the special presence of Almighty God through the scenes and triumphs of the Revolution, and their desire to enthrone God as the Governor of the nation. The motto of his oration was, —

Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell

Their children, and their children another generation.

A prophet divinely inspired, and deeply impressed with the importance of the event which had just taken place, breaks into this exclamation, — an exclamation happily adapted to the present occasion, tending to perpetuate the remembrance of an event written upon the heart of every true American, of every friend to his country.

The eventful history of our great Revolution is pregnant with many a source of sublime astonishment. Succeeding ages shall turn to the historic page and catch inspiration from the era of 1776: they shall bow to the rising glory of America; and Rome, once mistress of the world, shall fade on their remembrance.

The commencement of our struggles, their progress and their periods, will furnish a useful lesson to posterity: they will teach them that men desperate for freedom, united in virtue, and assisted by the God of armies, can never be subdued. The youthful warrior, the rising politician, will tremble at the retrospect and turn pale at the amazing story. America, — the infant America, — all defenceless as she is, is invaded by a most powerful nation, her plains covered by disciplined armies, her harbors crowded with hostile fleets. Destitute of arms, destitute of ammunition, with no discipline but their virtue, and no general but their God, — threatened with the loss of their liberties (liberties which were coeval with their existence and dearer than their lives), they arose in resistance and were nerved in desperation. What was the consequence? The invaders were repulsed, their armies captured, their strong works demolished, and their fleets driven back. Behold, the terrible flag of the glory of Great Britain, dropping all tarnished from the mast, bewails its sullied honors.

This, my countrymen, by assistance superhuman have we at length accomplished, — I say superhuman assistance, for one of us has “chased a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. The Lord of hosts was on our side, the God of the armies of Israel;” and at every blow we were ready to exclaim, with glorious exultation, “The sword of the Lord and of Washington.”

Yet how did even America despair when the protecting hand of our Great Leader (God) was for one moment withheld! Witness our veteran army retreating through the Jerseys; an almost total withering to our hopes, while America trembled with expectation, — trembled ! though shielded and protected by the King of kings and her. beloved Washington.

And now, having in some measure paid our debt of acknowledgment to the visible authors of our independence, let us lay our hands on our hearts in humble adoration of that Monarch who (in place of George the Third) was this day chosen to reign over us; let us venerate the great generalissimo of our armies, from whom all triumph flows ; and be it our glory, not that George the Third, but Jehovah, the first and the last, is King of America — he who dwelleth in the clouds, and whose palace is the heaven of heavens; for, independent as we are with respect to the political systems of this world, we are still a province of the great kingdom, and fellow-subjects with the inhabitants of heaven.


…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

July 4, 2014

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On July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. The men who issued that famous document realized they were signing their own death warrants, since the British would consider them traitors. Many suffered hardship during the Revolutionary War.

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Francis Lewis, New York delegate saw his home plundered — and his estates in what is now Harlem — completely destroyed by British Soldiers. Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated with great brutality. Though she was later exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died from the effects of her abuse.

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William Floyd of New York saw the British use his home for a barracks. His family fled to Connecticut, where they lived as refugees. After the war, Floyd found his fields stripped and house damaged.

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Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause.

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Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.

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Richard Stockton of New Jersey was dragged from his bed, thrown into prison, and treated like a common criminal. His home was looted and his fortune badly impaired. He was released in 1777,but his health was broken. He died a few yeas later.

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At age sixty-three, John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He never saw them again. He died a broken man in 1779, without ever finding his family. The New Jersey Gazette reported that he “continued to the day he was seized with his last illness to discharge the duties of faithful and upright patriot in the service of his country.”

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Dr. John Witherspoon, signer, was president of the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton. The British occupied the town of Princeton, and billeted troops in the college. They trampled and burned the finest college library in the country.

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Judge Richard Stockton, another New Jersey delegate signer, had rushed back to his estate in an effort to evacuate his wife and children. The family found refuge with friends, but a Tory sympathizer betrayed them. Judge Stockton was pulled from bed in the night and brutally beaten by the arresting soldiers. Thrown into a common jail, he was deliberately starved. Congress finally arranged for Stockton’s parole, but his health was ruined. The judge was released as an invalid, when he could no longer harm the British cause. He returned home to find his estate looted and did not live to see the triumph of the Revolution. His family was forced to live off charity.

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Robert Morris, merchant prince of Philadelphia, delegate and signer, met Washington’s appeals and pleas for money year after year. He made and raised arms and provisions which made it possible for Washington to cross the Delaware at Trenton. In the process he lost 150 ships at sea, bleeding his own fortune and credit almost dry.

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George Clymer, Pennsylvania signer, escaped with his family from their home, but their property was completely destroyed by the British in the Germantown and Brandywine campaigns.

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William Ellery, Rhode Island delegate, saw his property and home burned to the ground.

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Thomas Lynch, Jr., South Carolina delegate, had his health broken from privation and exposures while serving as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies and on the voyage, he and his young bride were drowned at sea.

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Thomas Nelson, signer of Virginia, was at the front in command of the Virginia military forces. With British General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, fire from 70 heavy American guns began to destroy Yorktown piece by piece. Lord Cornwallis and his staff moved their headquarters into Nelson’s palatial home. While American cannonballs were making a shambles of the town, the house of Governor Nelson remained untouched. Nelson turned in rage to the American gunners and asked, “Why do you spare my home?” They replied, “Sir, out of respect to you.” Nelson cried, “Give me the cannon!” and fired on his magnificent home himself, smashing it to bits. But Nelson’s sacrifice was not quite over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, a newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them, and Nelson’s property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.

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Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, while serving is governor, narrowly escaped advancing British soldiers, led by traitor Benedict Arnold, by galloping into the woods surrounding Monticello as the cavalry descended on his home. The British ravaged his wine cellar but spared the home.

Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, three South Carolina signers, served in their state’s militia and were captured when the British seized Charleston. They spent a year in a St. Augustine prison and, when released, found their estates plundered.

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And, finally, there is the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark.

He gave two sons to the officer corps in the Revolutionary Army. They were captured and sent to that infamous British prison hulk afloat in New York Harbor known as the hell ship Jersey, where 11,000 American captives were to die. The younger Clarks were treated with a special brutality because of their father. One was put in solitary and given no food. With the end almost in sight, with the war almost won, no one could have blamed Abraham Clark for acceding to the British request when they offered him his sons’ lives if he would recant and come out for the King and Parliament. The utter despair in this man’s heart, the anguish in his very soul, must reach out to each one of us down through 200 years with his answer: “No.”

Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his 13 children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Their honor, and the nation they sacrificed so much to create is still intact.

The 56 signers of the Declaration Of Independence proved by their every deed that they made no idle boast when they composed the most magnificent curtain line in history. “And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Sources:

  • The American Patriot’s Almanac, William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb (2008) p. 235
  • The Americans Who Risked Everything, Rush Limbaugh, Jr. (2008)

Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

July 4, 2014

Declaration of Independence

Here is the complete text of the Declaration of Independence. This document represents a primary resource in understanding the history of America. The original spelling and capitalization have been retained.

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IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

A DECLARATION by the REPRESENTATIVES of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GENERAL CONGRESS ASSEMBLED.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

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John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, commissioned 1817; purchased 1819;

placed in the Rotunda 1826

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

  • Column 1
  • Georgia:
  • Button Gwinnett
  • Lyman Hall
  • George Walton
  • Column 2
  • North Carolina:
  • William Hooper
  • Joseph Hewes
  • John Penn
  • South Carolina:
  • Edward Rutledge
  • Thomas Heyward, Jr.
  • Thomas Lynch, Jr.
  • Arthur Middleton
  • Column 3
  • Massachusetts:
  • John Hancock
  • Maryland:
  • Samuel Chase
  • William Paca
  • Thomas Stone
  • Charles Carroll of Carrollton
  • Virginia:
  • George Wythe
  • Richard Henry Lee
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • Thomas Nelson, Jr.
  • Francis Lightfoot Lee
  • Carter Braxton
  • Column 4
  • Pennsylvania:
  • Robert Morris
  • Benjamin Rush
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • John Morton
  • George Clymer
  • James Smith
  • George Taylor
  • James Wilson
  • George Ross
  • Delaware:
  • Caesar Rodney
  • George Read
  • Thomas McKean
  • Column 5
  • New York:
  • William Floyd
  • Philip Livingston
  • Francis Lewis
  • Lewis Morris
  • New Jersey:
  • Richard Stockton
  • John Witherspoon
  • Francis Hopkinson
  • John Hart
  • Abraham Clark
  • Column 6
  • New Hampshire:
  • Josiah Bartlett
  • William Whipple
  • Massachusetts:
  • Samuel Adams
  • John Adams
  • Robert Treat Paine
  • Elbridge Gerry
  • Rhode Island:
  • Stephen Hopkins
  • William Ellery
  • Connecticut:
  • Roger Sherman
  • Samuel Huntington
  • William Williams
  • Oliver Wolcott
  • New Hampshire:
  • Matthew Thornton

Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776


Lee Resolution adopted: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America

July 2, 2014

 

 

The Lee Resolution, also known as the Resolution of Independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776, after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton (in fact Lee used, almost verbatim, the language from the instructions in his resolution). Voting on the resolution was delayed for several weeks while support for independence was consolidated. On June 11, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a document to explain the reasons for independence. The resolution was finally approved on July 2, 1776, and news of its adoption was published that evening in the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the next day in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved on July 4. It was the 4th, and not the 2nd, that would come to be celebrated as Independence Day for the new country.

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Engraving by Ole Erekson, circa 1876, Library of Congress

When the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, few colonists in British North America openly advocated independence from Great Britain. Support for independence grew steadily in 1776, especially after the publication of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense in January of that year. In the Second Continental Congress, the movement towards independence was guided principally by an informal alliance of delegates eventually known as the “Adams-Lee Junto”, after Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.

On May 15, 1776, the revolutionary Virginia Convention, then meeting in Williamsburg, passed a resolution instructing Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain”.[1] In accordance with those instructions, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee presented the resolution to Congress. The resolution, seconded by John Adams, had three parts:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

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The Lee Resolution

Congress as a whole was not yet ready to declare independence, however, because the delegates from some of the colonies, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, had not yet been authorized to vote for independence.[2] Voting on the first clause of Lee’s resolution was therefore postponed for three weeks while advocates of independence worked to build support in the colonial governments for the resolution.[3] Meanwhile, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a formal declaration so that it would be ready when independence, which almost everyone recognized was now inevitable, was approved. The committee prepared a declaration of independence, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, and presented it to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The declaration was set aside while the resolution of independence was debated for several days. On July 2, the resolution of independence was approved by twelve of the thirteen colonies. Delegates from New York still lacked instructions to vote for independence, and so they abstained on this vote, although on July 9 the New York Provincial Congress would vote to “join with the other colonies in supporting” independence.[4]

Although it would shortly be outshone by the much more famous declaration, the Lee Resolution’s passage was contemporaneously reported as the colonies’ definitive declaration of independence from Great Britain. The evening of July 2, the Pennsylvania Evening Post reported:

This day the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.[5]

The Pennsylvania Gazette followed suit the next day with its own brief report:

Yesterday, the

CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and

INDEPENDENT STATES.[6]

After passing the resolution of independence on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the text of the declaration. Over several days of debate, Congress made a number of alterations to the text, including adding the wording of Lee’s resolution of independence to the conclusion. The final text of the declaration was approved by Congress on July 4 and sent off to be printed.

John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, on July 3 about the resolution of independence:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.[7]

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John and Abigail Adams

Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated Independence Day on July 4, the date the much-publicized Declaration of Independence was approved, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was adopted.

The latter two parts of the June resolution were not passed until months later. The second part regarding the formation of foreign alliances was approved in September 1776, and the third part regarding a plan of confederation was passed in November 1777.

Notes

  1. Boyd, Evolution of the Text, 18; Maier, American Scripture, 63. For text of the May 15 Virginia resolution, see Yale.edu
  2. Maier, American Scripture, 42
  3. Maier, American Scripture, 43
  4. Burnett, Continental Congress, 191
  5. Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 2, 1776
  6. Pennsylvania Gazette, July 3, 1776
  7. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. Masshist.org, Butterfield, L.H., ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963

References

  • Boyd, Julian P., The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text. Originally published 1945. Revised edition edited by Gerard W. Gawalt. University Press of New England, 1999. ISBN 0-8444-0980-4
  • Burnett, Edward Cody. The Continental Congress. New York: Norton, 1941
  • Hogeland, William. Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1-July 4, 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 1-4165-8409-9; ISBN 978-1-4165-8409-4
  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997. ISBN 0-679-45492-6

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