The Fourth of July
Why We Should Care
The day was hot and steamy as a small group of men huddled around several sturdy wooden tables, a few standing aside, appearing to argue fervently over some issue of importance. Others stalking back and forth, muttering as they pondered the events unfolding before them. All were sweating profusely and not necessarily entirely due to the weather. They were committing treason. A crime punishable by hanging.
These men were the newly formed Continental Congress. Only two days earlier, they had voted to approve a motion made by the colony of Virginia, to unlawfully separate from their “mother country” England - Great Britain, the most powerful nation in the world. The term they used was “Colexit” (Colony exit) - sort of a retro-term such as would be used by England centuries later, in their own exit from Europe – Brexit.
It had been their work to decide the future of the 13 new colonies – to either stay with England or ditch the King and strike out on their own. None of them took the decision lightly, for they well knew that if they chose the latter, it would be a dangerous and perilous journey for them all. One month earlier, the Congress had formed a committee with a mission to create a document that would list grievances against King George III. The document would facilitate and notify their intent to separate. After that, it would be “game on.”
The job of crafting such a document rested with a 33-year-old man from Virginia, named Thomas Jefferson, a man whom many historians would later proclaim to be a genius. He took just 17 days to craft a document that was to serve as a blueprint for a new nation and become one of the most important documents ever written.
One must recognize the courage, the complete dedication these men felt, by simply entering into this endeavor. Putting it into context; by placing their names on that document, it meant that if they lost their struggle, everything they had built would be forfeited to the Crown. They would be sentenced to death and their families, destitute. Their farms, plantations, businesses, everything they had worked so hard for - gone. Their lives forfeited for an idea. An idea called freedom. Something many take for granted in present day.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 great men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five were captured by the British, tried as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Continental Army, another had two sons captured and tortured – their health ruined. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships they suffered in the war. When they signed, they knew the risks, yet they signed anyway, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Who were these men who were so willing to sacrifice for a new nation, one free of persecution and abuse? What kind of men were they? Among them were twenty-five lawyers and jurists, eleven merchants, nine farmers and large plantation owners, one teacher, one musician and a printer. All were men of means, well-educated, prominent men in their communities. Why would they sign a declaration of war against a ruthless king with the most powerful army in the world? Why risk everything? But, they did. They signed our Declaration of Independence knowing full-well that the penalty would be torture and death if they were captured. They stood like oak trees and paid a heavy price for it.
As the advancing British Army closed in on them, the Continental Congress fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore on December 12, 1776. Imagine the anxiety, if you were Congressional President John Hancock, his wife having just given birth to a baby girl. The complications stemming from the family’s flight to Baltimore resulted in the child dying only a month later.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He loaned large sums of money to revolutionary causes; it was never paid back. He was forced to sell his plantations and mortgage his other properties to pay his debts. He died in rags.
Hounded constantly by the British Army, Thomas McKean was forced to move his family constantly. He served in the Continental Congress without pay and kept his family in hiding until independence was secured. His every possession was confiscated, and poverty was his only reward.
During the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson’s family home had been taken over by the British General Cornwallis, who was using it as his headquarters. Nelson quietly urged General George Washington to engage his cannons and open fire on his own home. The home was destroyed, and Nelson later died bankrupt.
Immediately after signing the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, a New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice, rushed back to his estate near Princeton to find that his wife and children were refugees, living with friends. Betrayed by a Tory sympathizer, who later also revealed Stockton's whereabouts, they had to flee for their lives with only what they had on their backs. A short time later, British troops pulled him from his bed one night, beat him and threw him in jail, nearly starving him to death. Finally released, he returned home, only to find his estate had been looted, his possessions burned, and his horses stolen. Judge Stockton had been so badly treated in prison that he never recovered, his health ruined, he died before the war's end. His surviving family lived the remainder of their lives off charity.
Like many of the other signees of the Declaration, William Ellery also lost his fortune. In December 1776, during three days of British occupation of Newport, Rhode Island, Ellery's house was burned, and all his property destroyed.
Thomas Heyward, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Arthur Middleton, delegates from South Carolina, were captured by the British during the Charleston Campaign in 1780 and kept in dungeons at the St. Augustine Prison until exchanged a year later.
Francis Lewis also had his home and properties destroyed. The British jailed his wife for months, and the hardships from confinement and the war so affected her health that she died within a few months.
Vandals or soldiers or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton. In all, seventeen members lost everything they owned.
Such were the stories and sacrifices typical of those who risked everything to sign the Declaration of Independence. These men were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged:
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the
Protection of the divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
Why is this important to us today? We now live in a time of turbulence; rioting in our streets once more, the statues and memorials of these very men – men who had sacrificed so much for our way of life – disrespected and defaced, destroyed and set on fire. The entire history of this great era is at risk of being destroyed and forgotten. That is why it is of so much importance to us today. We must remember that the cost of freedom wasn’t free, it was paid for in blood by our forefathers; forefathers who were imperfect at best, but still patriots, men of character and commitment. So, while our history may have been tarnished by great men with faults, some nonetheless imperfect because they acted in the manner of the times by owning slaves, without them, we would have no country today. If for no other reason than this, their memory and our history must be preserved.
The small upstart colonies that would become the United States of America had been at war with King George for over a year when the Declaration was formally adopted on July 4th by 12 of the 13 colonies – New York being the only colony to abstain. They would join the other 12 colonies on 19 July 1776. One little known fact is that while most Americans believe the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, the document we now preserve in Congressional archives, was signed nearly a month later, on Aug. 2.
The date that the Declaration was signed has long been the subject of debate. Three of the Second Continental Congress’s most prominent members, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams all wrote that it was signed July 4, 1776, the day it was adopted. That claim seems to be confirmed by the signed document itself, dated July 4. Additional support for the July 4 date is provided in official public records such as the Journals of Congress. The official copy of the Declaration of Independence was handwritten and is displayed in the Records of Congress.
In dispute of this date is document signer Thomas McKean. He pointed out that some of the signers were not present, that some had not yet even been elected to Congress. Neither Jefferson nor Adams wavered from their belief that the document was signed on July 4. Eight members out of the 50 believed to be present, never signed the document. Four were attending to duties elsewhere when the signing took place. Two, Charles Humphreys and Thomas Willing, voted against the resolution and were subsequently replaced in the Pennsylvania delegation before the August 2 signing. John Alsop favored reconciliation with Great Britain and resigned rather than add his name to the document. Dickenson refused to sign because he believed they had jumped the gun and such proceedings were premature. He, none-the-less, remained in Congress. Originally, George Reid voted against the resolution, and Robert Morris abstained, but subsequently, both later signed the Declaration.
The most famous signature to ever appear on any document was that of John Hancock. As President of Congress, Hancock’s flamboyant signature is iconic to present day, becoming an informal synonym for the term “signature”.
Two future presidents signed the Declaration that day: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The youngest to sign was Edward Rutledge, age 26, and the eldest Benjamin Franklin, age 70. Eight new members of Congress who did not take seats until after July 4 were allowed to sign later. Mathew Thornton didn’t officially take his seat until November but by the time he signed, there was no more space among the New Hampshire delegates for his signature, so he signed at the very end of the document.
The Declaration of Independence was at first, called the Dunlap Broadside, which at the time only included the names of Congressional President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson, the names printed, rather than signed. On January 18, 1777, the new nation learned who had signed their Declaration of Independence when Congress ordered that an "authenticated copy" be sent to each of the 13 states. The authenticated copy was called the Goddard Broadside and was the first copy to list all the signers except for Thomas McKean, who may not have signed the Declaration until after the Goddard Broadside was published.
One famous legend emerging once the Declaration had become a national symbol, was when John Hancock supposedly said that the delegates, having signed the Declaration, must "all hang together on it.” To which Benjamin Franklin was to have quipped, "Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." True or not, who can say? After all, many described Franklin as quick with the wit as a later statesman named Winston Churchill would become known for his wit. The quotation did not appear in print until more than 50 years after Franklin's death.
The most famous and often used quote of the Declaration is undoubtedly, "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."
There are also many little-known facts associated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
Two of the Declaration's signers died 50 years to the day (July 4, 1826) after the document was adopted. Both were presidents -- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They died within hours of each other. It is reported that John Adam's last words were, "Jefferson lives."
The first public reading of the Declaration took place on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia.
The printer, John Dunlap, was asked to make about 200 copies. It is believed only 26 Dunlap copies still exist.
Not one of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence was born in America. America did not yet exist on July 4, 1776. Most of the signers -- all but 8 -- were born in one of the 13 colonies.
The youngest to sign - Thomas Lynch, Jr. and Edward Rutledge. Both were only 26.
The oldest to sign - Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was 70.
The original sheet of parchment that was signed is 24¼ by 29¾ inches.
The Declaration is housed in the National Archives in Washington DC in a special vault. The copy is not the draft that was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Instead it is a formal copy that the Continental Congress hired someone to make for them after the text was approved. This was the copy signed on August 2, 1776.
During World War II, the Declaration of Independence was kept in a vault at Fort Knox.
If that is not enough information to ponder, one may consider this trivia as well:
The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest started on this day in 1916. A couple of immigrants got into a dispute and this was their means of resolving an issue about who was the most patriotic.
The Bristol Fourth of July Parade in Rhode Island is the oldest continuous celebration in the country.
It is unclear as to whether Congress signed the Declaration on July 4. Most historians believe that it was signed about a month after its adoption, on August 2.
The Fourth wasn’t declared a national holiday until 1941.
The stars on the original American flag appeared in a circle so they would be “equal.”
It is estimated that 150 million hot dogs are consumed each year on this day. But this wasn’t always the case. According to legend, John Adams and his wife Abigail ate turtle soup to celebrate in 1776. Until sometime late 1800s or early 1900s, turtle soup was the official holiday celebratory food.
It is not only Independence Day for the U.S…. but also, for the Philippines and Rwanda.
A count of 14,000 firework displays are staged every year in celebration.
Americans spend over $600 million for fireworks on the 4th.
In 1781, Massachusetts was the first state to declare Independence Day a holiday.
The first White House Fourth of July party was enjoyed 1804.
We Declare Our Independence from Great Britain
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 affect 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 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 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 harass 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 complete 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 endeavored 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 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 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.
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Robert Treat Paine
LTC Raymond (Ray) Morris
U.S. Army Special Forces (ret)
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