Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Declaring Independence: The Spirits of '76

 ~ A little historical informational fun for our 4th of July holiday ~
Updated 2023

"Something special happened over two centuries ago.  But is that story being told and promoted?  And to do that,  you also have to be willing to promote what makes America special.  That's not very PC these days,  but maybe it's time to start celebrating America again,  especially in the run up to the 250th in 2026."
A replicated version of the 
Pennsylvania State House, now
known as Independence Hall.
This replica is the main entrance
to The Henry Ford Museum in
Dearborn, Michigan.
Do you realize that 2026 will mark the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence?
Does that mean anything to you?
I certainly hope so if you are an American citizen,  for the Declaration of Independence,  of which John Adams persuaded to have Thomas Jefferson compose, is the  "formal explanation which announced that the thirteen American colonies,  then at war with England,  regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and were no longer under British rule." 

Aw, jeez...now that sounds like it's coming from a boring old school book...
Here,  this is a more fun explanation,  taken from Farmer Boy  by Laura Ingalls Wilder as the Wilder family celebrated the 4th  of July in the 1870s:
BOOM!  The cannons leaped backward, the air was full of flying grass and weeds. Everybody was exclaiming about what a loud noise they had made.
"That's the noise that made the Redcoats run!"  Mr. Paddock said to Father.
"Maybe,"  Father said, tugging his beard. "But it was muskets that won the Revolution.  And don't forget it was axes and plows that made this country."
"That's so,  come to think of it,"  Mr. Paddock said.
That night when they were going to the house with milk,  Almanzo asked Father:  "Father,  how was it axes and plows that made this country?  Didn't we fight England for it?"
"We fought for Independence,  son,"  Father said.  "It was farmers that took that country and made it America."
"How?"  Almanzo asked.
"Spaniards were soldiers that only wanted gold.  The French were fur traders,  wanting to make quick money.  And England was busy fighting wars.  But we were farmers, son;  we wanted the land.  It was farmers that went over the mountains,  and cleared the land,  and settled it,  and farmed it,  and hung on to their farms.  It's the biggest country in the world,  and it was farmers who took all that country and made it America.  Don't you ever forget that."

I really like this explanation.  It is, more or less,  what I taught my kids when they were tiny tots,  and now they,  too,  love and appreciate history and America in their own right. 
And that makes me proud.
Now,  as much as I love  reading  about the birth of America,  wouldn't it be fun to have an opportunity to go back in time and experience it?
Hmmm...hey!  I tell you what---why don't I jump in my way-back machine and travel back to late 18th century Philadelphia?  I can then report my findings...and I'll have my  "stealth camera"  with me for photographic proof! 
Let's go!
~~~~~~Journey to the past...~~~~~~

Philadelphia 1789------(well...almost...!) 
Did you notice the picture of Independence Hall/Pennsylvania State House posted above?
Well,  unfortunately,  that's not how it looked in the 1770s.  The building was modified numerous times over the years,  and the popular clock tower version that we are most familiar with did not come to being until around 1824.
This is how the facade of the Pennsylvania State House looked during the time of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention:
Pennsylvania State House 1770s
Similar, yet different.
Yet I have another surprise:
the Independence Hall you see in my photos here is not the one in Philadelphia.
It is an exact replication...in Dearborn,  Michigan!
When Henry Ford inquired about the style of building for the museum he planned to build, Detroit architect,  Robert O. Derrick,  responded with,  "Well,  I'll tell you,  Mr.  Ford,  the first thing I could think of would be if you could get permission for me to make a copy of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  It is a wonderful building and beautiful architecture and it certainly would be appropriate for a collection of Americana."  So,  Mr.  Ford hired Mr.  Derrick to have his copy built exactly in the same architectural style as the original in Philadelphia,  and he spared no expense in doing so,  including the same mistakes of the original,  such as the windows in the tower being slightly off center by a couple inches,  as well as having the bricks made from the same who made the originals.

Still,  I entered the building and who do you suppose I found myself in the company of?
"Why...Dr. Benjamin Franklin!  I have not the honor,  Sir,  to know you."

I suppose if I would want to meet anyone while in the Pennsylvania State House,  
it would be Ben Franklin,  a true Patriot and,  perhaps,  the United States' finest citizen.
(Don't you just love living historians?)
As Dr. Franklin explained,  it was here where the 2nd Continental Congress met,  and it was also where the Declaration of Independence  (of which Franklin helped to write)  and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted.
Oh,  it certainly was an honor indeed to hear these stories from  "the man"  himself!
(Remember - this is a replicated building we are in - not the original. 
But with Benjamin Franklin here,  it truly felt as if we were in the original!)
And Dr. Franklin was a kind man indeed to be so very willing to answer my Declaration of Independence queries.  He explained how,  on June 7,  1776,  Richard Henry Lee,  a delegate to the Second Continental Congress,  presented a draft of a resolution that called for the Congress to declare a separation from British rule.
There was much hesitation;  should Congress again attempt some sort of reconciliation with the Mother Country,  or should they declare nationhood and risk the increased wrath of the British monarchy?
They were divided and discussion ensued.  It was three days later when they voted to postpone consideration of Lee's resolution until July 1st,  1776.  On that date,  Congress would reopen the debate on the issue of independence.  Meanwhile,  a committee would be formed to draft a proposed declaration of independence.
It was then that I asked Dr. Franklin about how he,  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote this most important of our historical attestations.
"Actually,"  he told me,  "it was a committee of five – including myself,  Adams and Jefferson,  along with Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman - who had drafted the formal declaration,  to be ready when Congress voted."

Thomas Jefferson never claimed originality for the philosophy he embodied in The Declaration he had written.  It was an expression of the mind of the American patriots of that age and he was among the first of these.  In explaining his involvement,  Jefferson said he was asked by the others in this committee to write the draft.  There appears to have been several meetings of the committee, discussing the general character and form of the document
You see,  the idea of government by consent,  based upon rights derived from natural law,  was an ancient one.  But this theory of government in the Declaration of Independence 
was the first example in history in which a new nation erected its government 
 "of the people,  by the people and for the people."
Jefferson first submitted his draft to Adams and Franklin because he especially valued their judgment.  Suggestions of theirs were written in,  and the document was accepted by 

the full committee. 

Here is the original  "rough draught"  (draft)  of the Declaration of Independence as written by Thomas Jefferson
(No,  you don't see Robert Livingston or Roger Sherman in this photo-still from the  John Adams  HBO mini-series,  but it still greatly depicts what it may have been like while discussing the writing of the Declaration of Independence)
The approval of this resolution for independence from Britain was passed on July 2 at the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia with no opposing vote cast.  And it was on that same day that the Pennsylvania Evening Post published this:  “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.” 
From that point,  we now considered ourselves to be the United States of America.
The next day,  July 3,  John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:  "The Second Day of July 1776,  will be the most memorable Epocha,  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 Act of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews,  Games,  Sports,  Guns, Bells,  Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."    

So why do we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day and not July 2nd?
We do so because the Declaration of Independence itself was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776,  making it  "official."
The opening of the original printing of the Declaration,  printed as a broadside by printer John Dunlap on July 4,  1776 under Jefferson's supervision.  These broadsides were not signed,  though John Hancock's name was large in print.
Dunlap spent much of the night of July 4 working feverishly in setting the type and running off the broadside sheets to be read aloud to the public the following day.
The full engrossed copy below was made later and was the version famously signed by the delegates.

Note the opening lines of the two versions differ.
This is the print of which was signed  (mostly)  on 
August 2, 1776
The city of Philadelphia, where the Declaration was signed,  waited until July 8 to celebrate,  with a parade and the firing of guns.  The Continental Army under the leadership of George Washington didn’t learn about it until July 9.
As for the British government in London,  well,  it didn’t know that the United States had declared independence until Aug. 30.
~A reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Capitol at Colonial Williamsburg~
"Yesterday afternoon,"  Williamsburg's  Virginia Gazette  reported on July 26,  1776,  "agreeable to an order of the Hon.  Privy Council,  the Declaration of Independence was solemnly proclaimed at the Capitol,  the Courthouse,  and the palace,  amidst the acclamation of the people,  accompanied by firing of cannon and musketry,  the several regiments of continental troops having been paraded on that solemnity."
Photo courtesy of David M from the Colonial Williamsburg web site
From James Parton’s 1874 book,  Life of  Thomas Jefferson:  (page 191):
During the 2d,  3d,  and 4th of July,  Congress were engaged in reviewing the Declaration.  Thursday,  the fourth,  was a hot day;  the session lasted many hours;  members were tired and impatient.  Mr.  Jefferson used to relate,  with much merriment,  that the final signing of the Declaration of Independence was hastened by an absurdly trivial cause.
You see,  since it was such a hot day,  someone opened the windows to let in a breeze…
Near the hall in which the debates were then held   (The State House then - Independence Hall now)  was a livery-stable,  from which swarms of flies came into the open windows,  and assailed the silk-stockinged legs of honorable members.  Handkerchief in hand,  they lashed the flies with such vigor as they could command on a July afternoon;  but the annoyance became at length so extreme as to render them impatient of delay,  and they made haste to bring the momentous business to a conclusion
As another historian put it,  “Treason was preferable to discomfort,”  and members closed debate,  hustled to sign,  and exited quickly,  pursued by horse flies.
Scholars don’t believe the document was signed by delegates of the Continental Congress on July 4th.  It is now believed that most of the delegates signed it on August 2,  1776.  That’s when the assistant to the secretary of Congress,  Timothy Matlack,  produced a clean copy.
My own  *copy*  of the original pressing...
John Hancock,  who was the president of the Continental Congress,  signed first,  right in the middle of the area for signatures.  The last delegate to sign,  according to the National Archives,  is believed to be Thomas McKean of Delaware,  sometime in 1781.  Perhaps the delay was due to the fact that by putting their names on the document the delegates essentially signed their death warrants.  There was no greater treason than declaring independence from the King.  The fact that this did not deter Hancock from putting the biggest signature on the document testifies to his bravery and his unshaken belief that the independence will prevail.
It wasn't until early 1777 that the names of those who had signed by then were released publicly.
By the way,  the oldest signer of the Declaration was Benjamin Franklin,  who was born in 1706 and was therefore already 70 at the time.  There is also a quote attributed to Dr. Franklin as the signing occurred:  "We must all hang together,  or assuredly we shall all hang separately,"  meaning that they must stick together and support one another to win this war for independence or they certainly will literally hang at the end of a noose,  one by one.
The huge canvas painting by John Trumbull hanging in the grand Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol depicting the signing of the Declaration is,  it turns out,  a work of imagination.  In his biography of John Adams,  historian David McCullough wrote:  “No such scene,  with all the delegates present,  ever occurred at Philadelphia.”
And here is a close up of the signatures

"Twas right here in this hall where we also celebrated the 
Constitutional Convention back in 1787."

Note the very close similarities in the room 
in the painting compared to the one in which 
Dr. Franklin and I are speaking.
Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris entitled  "John Paul Jones at the Constitutional Convention." 
That is Ben Franklin flanked by John Paul Jones and George Washington.

I told Dr. Franklin that Independence Day was still
celebrated over 240 years later,  and, yes,  we do celebrate
this special holiday just as Mr. Adams suggested,  with 
"Pomp and Parade with shews,  Games,  Sports, 
Guns,  Bells,  Bonfires and Illuminations
from one End of the Continent to the other."
My new friend seemed quite pleased.

"In fact,"  I told him,  "Independence Day is my second favorite holiday, 
with only Christmas coming out ahead."
This gave Franklin a chuckle,  for he,  too,  enjoyed 
celebrating the Christmas holiday.  He replied with:
"O blessed Season!  lov'd by Saints and Sinners / 
For long Devotions,  or for longer Dinners."

"'Tis a mighty hot day.  I would be much obliged to have you join me at a nearby ordinary  to quench the dryness in my throat."
Of course I would not turn down such an offer, and off we went the local tavern.  The story of our War for Independence could not be disassociated from the old taverns,  for they are a part of our national history.  They were the pulse of 18th century urban life,  and their importance to the local community cannot be overstated.  So, for me,  it was an honor to be sitting inside a publick house with Dr. Franklin,  listening to his stories:
"Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; 
and no such Thing as Public Liberty,  without Freedom of Speech.
 Where liberty dwells,  there is my country.
They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, 
deserve neither liberty nor safety."

"This gave me occasion to observe,  that when Men are employ'd they are best contented.  For on the Days they work'd they were good-natur'd and chearful;  and with the consciousness of having done a good Days work they spent the Evenings jollily; 
but on the idle Days they were mutinous and quarrelsome,  finding fault with their 
Pork,  the Bread,  etc.,  and in continual ill-humour.
 Work as if you were to live 100 Years,  Pray as if you were to die To-morrow."
I love Dr. Franklin's adages.
After a short while,  it was time to bid each other a farewell and we parted ways.

Now,  for your own knowledge sake,  I present to you a complete list of all 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence:

John Adams
Samuel Chase
Samuel Adams
Josiah Bartlett
Carter Braxton  
Charles Carroll
Samuel Chase
Abraham Clark
George Clymer  
Gerry Elbridge  
William Ellery
William Floyd
Benjamin Franklin
Button Gwinnett
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
John Hancock (president of the Continental Congress)
Benjamin Harrison
John Hart
Joseph Hewes
Thomas Heyward, Jr. 
William Hooper 
Stephen Hopkins
Francis Hopkinson
Samuel Huntington
Thomas Jefferson
Francis Lightfoot Lee 
Richard Henry Lee
Stephen Hopkins
Francis Lewis
Philip Livingston
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Thomas McKean
Arthur Middleton 
Lewis Morris
Robert Morris
John Morton
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
William Paca 
Robert Treat Paine
Robert Treat Paine
John Penn
George Read
Caesar Rodney 
George Ross 
Benjamin Rush
Edward Rutledge
Roger Sherman 
James Smith
Richard Stockton
Thomas Stone
George Taylor
Matthew Thornton 
George Wythe
George Walton
William Whipple
William Williams
James Wilson
John Witherspoon
Oliver Wolcott
George Wythe 

~  ~

Let's jump ahead a few years and spy into the thoughts of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as they converse with each other via letters about times past:
It was on May 27,  1813,   when Jefferson wrote to Adams with somber news:
Benjamin Rush
Another of our friends of  76 is gone,  my dear Sir,  another of the Co-signers of the independence of our country. and a better man,  than  (Benjamin) Rush,  could not have left us,  more benevolent, more learned,  of finer genius,  or more honest.  we too must go;  and that ere long.  I believe we are under half a dozen at present;   I mean the signers of the Declaration.  yourself,  Gerry,  Carroll, and myself are all I know to be living.  I am the only one South of the Patomac.  is Robert Treat Payne,  or Floyd living?  it is long since I heard of them,  and yet I do not recollect to have heard of their deaths.
From John Adams:  "I recd  yesterday your favour of may 27th.  I lament with you the loss of Rush.  I know of no Character living or dead,  who has done more real good in America.  Robert Treat Paine still lives,  at 83 or 84,  alert drol and witty though deaf.  Floyd I believe,  yet remains,  Paine must be very great;  Philosopher and Christian;  to live under the Afflictions of his Family.
You & I have passed our lives in serious times..."
Serious times indeed!
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
Here is something that I feel is more than a coincidence - Providence,  mayhaps? - concerning these two men:  Thomas Jefferson and John Adams,  both co-writers of the Declaration of Independence,  died on the same day,  date,  and year.  That in itself is remarkable enough.  But their shared passing occurred on July 4,  1826,  50 years to the day of the Declaration's adoption.

Their death signaled the end of the Revolutionary era,  for,  at that point,  there was only one signer left alive,  Charles Carroll,  who lived six more years,  until 1832.
The Spirit of '76
While back in the 18th century,
I had an opportunity to meet
Colonel George Washington,
who very soon would be 
General, then, of course, our 
first President.
What an amazing trip...
I enjoy reading,  teaching,  presenting,  and even immersing myself in those times as a living historian,  if only for a short while.  And I cannot even begin to tell you what it does to my historical spirit...I do believe the Spirit of '76 is still in us here in the 21st century.  I really do,  even though it may not always seem like it.
The quote/comment at the very top of this post was written by someone belonging to one of the Colonial Williamsburg Facebook pages.  It was made during a discussion about possible changes occurring at and to the historical open-air museum...changes most visitors do not seem to be very fond of.  But I feel this quote speaks volumes and stands strong on its own,  which is why I included it here.
I revere our nation's history - the good and the bad, the right and the wrong - and I am truly in awe of our Founding Fathers and their generation,  and of the pioneering citizens that came after.  They had a spirit of strong stock that could overcome nearly anything thrown their way.   It's almost like they could do the impossible - surviving in such a way that the  majority  of us in the 21st century could probably never do.  For me living in a time when patriotism tends to pigeon-hole a person into a certain political party,   or having flag-wavers thought of as fools for having anything other than disdain for this country of ours,  I stand proudly as an American
Yep.  Patriotically.
I hope you'll stand with me.

Until next time, see you in time.
And Happy Independence Day!

The information here came from a variety of sources,  including the written correspondence between Adams and Jefferson,  which came from HERE, and the John Adams comments about how Independence Day should be celebrated came from HERE.
I gathered a variety of snippets about the history of the Declaration of Independence from numerous books, including:
The Declaration of Independence: The Story Behind America's Founding Document and the Men Who Created It By Rodd Gragg

1776: The Illustrated Edition By David McCullough

You might enjoy other postings I published in relation to this one:
Revolutionary War History - Preventing Tyranny at Salem in 1775 
This has got to be one of my very favorite stories to come out of the Revolutionary War...well, actually,  pre-Rev War,  for it happened only a few months before the battle of Lexington and Concord.
It's the simple telling of how the townsfolk of  Salem,  Massachusetts pulled together and beat the British without a single shot - true pre-RevWar story.
It is one of those stories that show true patriotism at its best - it'll make you stand and cheer!
Paul Revere: Listen My Children and You Shall Hear...
Modern historians like to relegate Paul Revere as more fable than fact,  no thanks to Longfellow's poem.  But this man deserves his place in our history,  and rightfully so,  for his ride was as important as nearly any other occurrence of his time.
I have searched multiple sources to find the true story of Paul Revere's Midnight Ride,  and put it all here.
I think you just might be surprised at what Revere actually did.

April 19, 1775: As Seen Through the Eyes and From the Quills of Those Who Were There
Diaries,  journals,  letters,  newspapers/broadsides,  remembrances...this is what I used to garner these very personal stories from those who were there - actual witnesses,  men & women,  of the Battle of Lexington & Concord.
Their tales will draw you into their world.

Travel and Taverns
The long air-conditioned  (or heated)  car ride.  Motels without a pool!  Can we stop at McDonalds?  I'm hungry!
Ahhhh....modern travelers never had it so good.
I've always had a fascination of travel back in the day,  and I decided to find out as much as I could about them.
I wasn't disappointed - - - I dug through my books,  went to a historic research library,  'surfed the net'  (does anyone say that anymore?),  and asked docents who work at historic taverns questions,  looking for the tiniest bits of information to help me to understand what it was like to travel and stay at a tavern in the colonial times.
This post is the culmination of all of that research,  and it made me realize just how much our country's founding relied upon the tavern.
Turn: The Original Culper Spy Ring Members
I haven't loved a television show as much as I do AMC's Turn since I can't remember when,  and the series,  though not as historically accurate as I'd like,  got me interested in a part of the Revolutionary War that I previously knew little about.
So I did some research.
What I did here is write short biographies of  Washington's original spies from Long Island.  Inserted throughout are pictures from the 4th  (and final)  season of the show.

With Liberty and Justice For All: The Fight for Independence at the Henry Ford Museum
An amazing collection of original Revolutionary War artifacts on display for all the world to see,  telling the story of America's fight for Independence.  An original Stamp Act notification.  A letter written by Benedict Arnold. George Washington's camp bed,  a coffee pot made by Paul Revere,  a writing desk that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson...yeah...this is some great stuff here!

Faces of History: Original Photographs of Revolutionary War Vets
Yes,   you heard right!  Actual photos of the men who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Of course,  the pictures were taken when the men were of an old age,  but still...looking into the eyes of those who were there - of those who actually saw  (and heard)  George Washington - is quite a thrill.

In the Good Old Colony Days
A concise pictorial to everyday life in America's colonies.  And I do mean   "pictorial,"  for there are over 80 photos included, covering nearly every aspect of colonial life.
I try to touch on most major topics of the period with links to read more detailed accounts.
This just may be my very favorite of all my postings.

~      ~


Caroline said...

Delightful read! Happy Independence Day!

Bama Planter said...

This was a wonderful. well written, inspirational post. I appreciate your writing it. I know it took some time to get it right, more hours than most would believe. I think our love of Civil War history is mutual, but we have progressed back to a love of Revolutionary history now. I think the Creation of the Country is more compelling to our souls than the destruction and costs of the preservation of the Union. Mind you, I'll dress up and play either time period , but more and more I am compelled to prefer the 18th to the 19th century. I watch the John Adams dvd's now, and the Washington's spies story was a grand production. The Gettysburg dvds....well, I haven't put them in the machine in a while. I've never been to Virginia or New England; now that I'm retired I need to go and see it all for myself while I can still travel. Ancestry.com found descendants of the original signers of the D of I, and put them in a commercial reading parts of it. They end the one minute spot by posing them to look like the painting. You can find it on YouTube and it will run, they say, for a couple of weeks. I know it is just a commercial, but it made my eyes water to see it.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you for the kind comments.
Caroline - - thank you, and to you as well! It's become almost as exciting for me as Christmas, and this year, in fact, may have been better than Christmas!

Bama Planter - You said it 100% in this comment, almost word for word the way I feel.
Great minds think alike - -
I will look for the commercial.
Thank you.

Historical Ken said...

From Karen:
Wow! Your article is amazing. Truly amazing! I’m a history teacher (5th grade - US History) and am super passionate about history, but nothing speaks more to me than the American Revolution!! I want to completely sponge off of everything you share. Thank you for sharing your passion, research, knowledge, and helping keep history alive. I will be spend hours looking through all of your other pages, movies, other pages you like, etc.
I feel very silly the way this may sound. I’m not expressing it carefully, but rather, just saying it how it comes to me. I’m giddy and can’t wait to LEARN!!!! I love that I’ve found this. It’s the most amazing article I’ve ever read about history! (Found the article on the Daughters of the American Revolution Facebook page. I’ve recently searched and found a few ancestors who made my passion for the Revolution even more powerful.).
If you have any other recommendations or pages you’d be willing to share, please do!! Thanks again for sharing your passion and knowledge of history!!!!!!!