Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Birthday America -- July 2 Marks 230 Years of Independence

That's correct, folks. For those of you not history majors or buffs (or my children, who had to listen to the story every year for the last 20) -- Congress did NOT declare the colonies free and independent states on July 4, 1776. The resolution declaring independence was adopted unanimously -- with New York abstaining whilst they awaited instructions -- on July 2, 1776.

Richard Lee and John Adams arrived at the Continental Congress prepared to argue for a declaration of independence fully aware that those sentiments may not be entirely embraced by the gathering.

In early June, Lee made his motion and Adams seconded it.
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.
Debate on the Resolution revealed a majority in favor, but a significant number of the colonies yet unsure or lacking appropriate instructions on independence. Congress was adjourned to allow time for the representatives to obtain instructions from their colonies and for lobbying.

In the meantime, recognizing that the Lee resolution would likely be adopted, a committee was conscripted to draft the argument for independence and the justification for what was, clearly, a treasonous and seditious act. Appointed were John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin, concerned that Adams was a little too much the aggressive litigator, suggested that Jefferson put together a draft and the committee unanimously appointed Jefferson the scrivener. He produced a rough draft but first met with Adams and Franklin for their input. They made some changes to the document before it was sent to the committee, which approved it without further change.

Congress reconvened on July 1, 1776 and the Lee Resolution was adopted July 2, 1776. It is thus on the Second of July, 1776 that the Colonies Declared themselves Free and Independent States. Adams famously wrote home how the date would be celebrated through history with picnics and fireworks:
The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
Immediately after adopting the Lee resolution and declaring independence from England, the Congress took up the Committee report. They reviewed, debated, and revised it in sessions on July 2, 3 and 4th. On the morning of the 4th, they adopted the Declaration of Independence.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

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 of 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 shewn, 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 mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations 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 harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the 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 a 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 offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring 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 into 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, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & 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 endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an 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 attentions to our Brittish 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 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.
It was sent to the printer the following day and the first signatures were affixed in August, 1776, when most member of Congress were present to sign the document. But the last signature would not be affixed for over five years.

So, you all go off and enjoy the Fourth. I'll be raising my glass(es) to Jefferson, Lee, Adams, Franklin and the rest of the gang today. (All this and more at the National Archives.)

Shameless Self-Promotion UPDATE: The cross-posted version of this history lesson at DKos was selected for a front page Diary Rescue mention. Aw, shucks.


Gort said...

Great post!

A Big Fat Slob said...

Thanks. My kids, however, wouldn't want you encouraging me -- there's also the speech about why drinking a Dutch beer on the 4th is patriotic.

Gort said...

I've never heard that one. Please share.

A Big Fat Slob said...

John Adams gets less than his due from History. As with many others of the Founders, we would not have survived as a Nation without him.

There are many instances in which his talents and insight meaningfully served the American cause at a crucial time. One such time was when the colonies were broke and contemplating the necessity of abandoning the cause of independence.

After the war began, Adams was dispatched to England to attempt to negotiate a Peace Treaty with the British. He was well-respected there -- he was the lawyer who sucessfully defended the British troops unfairly accused in the Boston Massacre episode.

In any event, he was not successful and was reassigned as Ambassador to Holland.

The unitied Colonies were nearly bankrupt. Adams' charge was to negotiate the Dutch endorsing American independence.

However, the Dutch had a very profitable black market shipping business going, and didn't want to imperil the trade by openly aligning with the Americans.

Adams switched course and negotiated a very very substantial loan from the Dutch, which came literally in the nick of time, another month and the American army would have had to pack up and go home -- no money, no bullets, no food, no army.

Adams convinced the Dutch to take a very big chance on American success. If the colonies were unsuccessful, Holland would have an uncollectable debt. The Dutch for their part demonstrated a great deal of faith in the colonies and were very generous with their support despite the risk they took if the British got wind of it.

So hoist a Heineken, Amstel, or my personal favorite, a Grolsch this fourth of July.

Gort said...

Thanks Slobby. If I remember right the final peace treay was signed in Holland. At the risk of sounding unpatriotic I still prefer British beers. Happy 4th.