Friday, July 04, 2008
July 4, 1776
232 years ago this morning, fifty-six delegates from the thirteen British colonies met at what would come to be known as Independence Hall in downtown Philadelphia. Most of them had spent the better part of the previous several months debating and arguing about the best course of action in regards to the ongoing conflict between the colonies and the crown.
The first months of 1776 had been anything but peaceful. Skirmishes, shootouts, and outright battles were raging from the Carolinas to Boston. Then General Washington’s Continental Army – though victorious in some instants – was dreadfully undermanned, badly supplied, and under-trained in the face of what was the most powerful army on the planet at the time.
Thomas Jefferson recorded that July 4, 1776 was an “unseasonably cool” day for Philadelphia. The aforementioned men gathered in the large room on the ground floor where they had spent so many days and nights to put their signatures to a document which could have very well become their own personal death warrants. They were, for all intents and purposes, committing high treason against the British Crown. King George would not look kindly upon their actions and would not have hesitated to execute the delegates had a few battles gone the other way.
Who were these men who had the audacity to put their names to a document so full of risk? Glad you asked.
Of the 56:
- 9 were immigrants
- 2 were brothers
- One was an orphan
- The average age of those in attendance was 45 - the oldest being Benjamin Franklin (70) and the youngest being Thomas Lynch, Jr. (27)
- 18 were businessmen or merchants
- 4 were doctors
- 14 were farmers
- 42 had previously served in their colonial legislatures
- 22 were lawyers
- 2 were clergymen
- Most were Protestant Christians - only one was a Roman Catholic
- 17 served in uniform during the Revolutionary War
- 5 were captured by the British during the war
- 11 had their homes and property destroyed during the war
It is the Declaration of Independence, authored by Thomas Jefferson, which put on paper the longing of the human soul for freedom and the power to control one's own destiny. The signers boldly declared that:
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. [Emphasis Added]
It should be noted that, at the time these 56 men signed their names to this bold Declaration, the outcome of the Revolutionary War was anything but certain. The war would grind on for over seven more years before Treaty of Paris was signed. I highly recommend David McCullough's 1776 to help illustrate just how tenuous America's beginnings truly were. Had Washington failed to rout the Hessians at Trenton - or had any one of a host of other narrow victories become a defeat - there's a good chance the Union Jack would still be flying over this nation and we'd still stop the world to have tea on time.
The men gathered in that stuffy room at Independence Hall pledged to each other their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor". Some gave their lives, many gave all or most of their fortunes, but all kept their honor.
So, before you go and fire up the barbeque, watch the fireworks, and do the other fitting and proper things Americans do on this the nation's birthday, take some time and read or listen to the words behind the Patriot's dream that truly saw beyond the years.
Here you will find the single best Super Bowl commercial ever produced. If you can somehow watch Pat Tillman's widow read part of the Declaration of Independence without getting just a little choked up, You. Are. Not Human.
And, just in case you haven't read it for awhile, here's the text of the Declaration of Independence.
Some years ago, Rick Moran "live-blogged" the Continental Congress. Well worth the trip down Virtual Memory Lane. Rick gives an entirely new definition to the Historical Fiction genre.
And finally, I'll sign off with Red Skelton. Think about this the next time you recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Have a fantastic Fourth!