Thursday, July 02, 2009

Happy Second of July!!

It is July 2, which means it is time for my annual tilt against the History you learnt.

This may be news to those of you not history majors (or my children, who had to listen to the story every year for the last couple of decades)-- but, the Continental Congress did NOT declare independence on the Fourth of July. That actually happened on July 2, 1776. (The vote was 12-0, New York abstained.)

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

In early June, Lee proposed a resolution severing colonial ties to the British:

"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."


Adams seconded the Lee Resolution.

Initial 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, anticipating adoption of the Lee Resolution, a committee was conscripted to draft the argument for independence and the justification for what was, clearly, a treasonous and seditious act. In short, they were assigned to draft the new Union's first talking points memo.

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. Adams, nothing if not self-aware, readily agreed and lobbied the reluctant Jefferson to accept the role. Jefferson, borrowing heavily from George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, produced a rough draft. He then presented it to Adams and Franklin, who 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 -- the true birth of our Union. That day, 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 declaring independence from England, the Congress took up Jefferson's Committee Report. They reviewed, debated, and revised it in sessions on July 2, 3 and 4. On the morning of the 4th, they adopted the Declaration of Independence.

It was sent to the printer the following day and the first signatures were affixed in August, 1776, when most members of Congress were present to sign the document. But the final signature would not be set for over five years.

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

(PS. On July 7, the NY Assembly voted to instruct the delegation to vote in favor of the Lee Resolution, making the vote for independence unanimous.)

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