Happy July 2nd - America's Independence Day
I've been publishing this somewhere online for over 15 years and some version of it on every July 2d for over 35 years.
Some notes to take away from the story this year --
-- 20% of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were Immigrants
-- A number of delegates spoke English as their second language.
-- Official records were published & maintained in three languages
-- 1/3 of our first Supreme Court were immigrants
-- 4 of the first six Secretaries of the Treasury were immigrants
-- the first President born in the United States of America spoke Dutch as his native language Myths and Symbols have ever been important to the development, perpetuation, and self-image of societies. The Second Continental Congress is central to the myth of our Nation's founding, Philadelphia's State House, since rechristened as Independence Hall, is one of our great symbols, standing for freedom, resistance to tyranny, honor, bravery, and, paradoxically, for the rule of law. But, our myth actually happened. Myths matter, and so does the History we created from them. Today, it is worth noting that almost twenty percent of the delegates to that Congress were immigrants, several spoke English as their second language. The official records of the Congress, including its journals and other documents, were printed in English, German, and French. (Alexander Hamilton and Tom Paine were noteworthy immigrant founders, one-third of our first Supreme Court were immigrants, four of the first six Secretaries of the Treasury were immigrants; the first President born in the United States of America, Martin van Buren, spoke English as a second language.) As we examine the factual underpinnings of our Founding Myth, consider the factual basis for our equally revered Myth that we are a nation built by immigrants, In 1774, Benjamin Franklin leveraged the Boston Blockade and the Intolerable Acts to finally convince the colonies to form a representative body. Consider that -- there was great resistance to even the notion of a joint colonial conference. The Townsend Acts were passed in 1767, British troops occupied Boston the following year, the Boston Massacre in 1770, and even after the Tea Party in 1773, the colonies still resisted the call simply to meet. The First Continental Congress met in the Fall of 1774 in Philadelphia's Carpenter's Hall. Fifty-six delegates from 12 of the colonies. Not participating was the new colony of Georgia, which was dependent on the British troops to hold off Native American tribes. While there was some sympathy for independence in that Congress, the prevailing sentiment was for rapprochement. There were also inconsistent notions of how best to utilize the power of their newly-found colonial unity. The First Congress petitioned the King to consider their grievances, and acknowledge the Continental Congress as the voice of the colonies. They determined to reconvene the following summer if the English had not addressed their petition. The Second Continental Congress convened a month after the battles at Lexington and Concord. Georgia was still not participating. Most of the original 56 delegates to the First Congress were there -- George Washington, Patrick Henry, John and Sam Adams, and they were joined by Franklin and John Hancock. Peyton Randolph was re-elected President of the Congress, and Charles Thompson reinstalled as Secretary. A few weeks into the Congress, Virginia sent Thomas Jefferson to replace Randolph, who had been picked to preside over the House of Burgesses. Henry Middleton was elected as President to replace Randolph, but he declined. Only then was John Hancock was selected to preside over the Congress. Earlier that year, in January, Georgia had convened a Provincial Congress and elected delegates to the Second Continental Congress -- but they declined to attend because there was a lack of unity among Georgians. That Spring, with the arrival of news about Lexington and Concord, Georgians began growing sympathetic to the Revolution. In May, the Sons of Liberty raided a British gunpowder facility in Savannah, and, finally, on July 4, 1775 (cool, right?), the Georgian Provincial Congress met again, voted to join the ban on British goods enacted by the First Continental Congress, and to send delegates to the Second Congress. By late July, 1775, the Second Continental Congress was staffed with representatives of all 13 Colonies. But, still, after more than a decade of growing tensions with the British over treatment of the Colonies, and with the colonists already battling British troops, there was less than an overwhelming desire for a break from Britain. Events developed rapidly that summer. In late May, the Congress authorized the invasion of Canada. On July 4, 1775 (THAT date again) they discussed the Olive Branch Petition -- essentially a last ditch effort to settle the dispute (somewhat) amicably. That passed on July 5, but on July 6 they adopted the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms -- written by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson. In August the British declared the colonies in open revolt. At this point the Congress was essentially acting as the executive and legislative body of the united colonies. Through 1775, the Congress periodically met and adjourned, helped assist and coordinate the war effort. But still, there was no strong movement to declare independence. And, here, my friends and detractors, is where I upturn the history you learnt. That the colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776 is a myth. That actually happened on July 2, 1776. (The vote was 12-0, with New York abstaining because its recently-dissolve assembly had not yet reorganized and had failed to provide instructions on the Independence question to the delegation.) The story of how the July 2 declaration happened is a combination of clever politics, bravery, coincidence, thoughtful acquiescence, and the acts of true statesmen, the likes of which are absent from our nightly news (or even local bodies) today. It deserves a proper telling. Months before, Richard Lee and John Adams had arrived at the re-convened Second Continental Congress prepared to argue for independence, fully aware that those sentiments were still not embraced by a majority of 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. Six colonies, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina, were not yet ready to declare independence. Congress was again adjourned to allow time for the representatives to obtain instructions from their colonies, and also to give Lee, Adams, and the other independence supporters time to lobby their brethren. In the meantime, in hopeful anticipation of the 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. John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson were appointed to the drafting committee. Franklin, concerned that Adams had a little too much of the aggressive litigator in him, 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 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. On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened as a "Committee of the Whole". On the First, Pennsylvania's John Dickinson argued against independence, largely arguing that the colonies were not prepared for the consequences of a split from the Empire. In response, John Adams spoke for an hour, organizing the necessity of revolt and the efficiencies that would benefit the colonies. His presentation moved most of the delegates into the independence column. The vote on July 1 was 9-2-1-1 -- with Pennsylvania and S Carolina voting in the negative, New York abstaining due to lack of authority, and Delaware not participating at all because its two-member delegation (one delegate was ill and late-arriving) was split. It was tabled to the following day, when the delegates reconvened as the Congress on July 2. Overnight, great lobbying and cajoling occurred -- South Carolina's delegation was convinced to join the Independence vote; Franklin persuaded John Dickinson and Robert Morris to abstain in the Pennsylvania caucus (Dickinson did not attend on July 2), allowing the delegation to vote in favor of Independence.
Delaware was still a problem. But overnight, through "thunder and rain", a very ill Caesar Rodney pushed his steed on, determined to make it in time to cast the deciding vote in the Delaware caucus. On July 2, mud-splattered, he appeared in Congress, "still in boots and spurs", just as the voting began. He joined his Delaware delegation and cast its deciding vote to make the vote 12-0-1, with still New York abstaining, 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 day of our Union.
The next 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, Congress took up Jefferson's Committee Report, which had been submitted June 28. They reviewed, debated, and revised it in sessions on July 2, 3 and 4.
On the morning of the 4th, they adopted the Jefferson's Declaration of Independence as the official statement explaining the reasons for the action they had taken on July 2.
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. (NO ONE signed it on July 4, BTW.)
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 .)
P.S. 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.
P.P.S. The vote for Independence was not taken at Independence Hall.