Weekly Features

Nifty Tidbits:

Originally printed in the Feb. 11, 2004 edition of the Illinois Valley News

Recently I have been reading a biography of John Adams, President of the United States and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It has given a greater appreciation for our “Founding Fathers” and the difficulties they endured, as well as the risks they took. All of these men had been active in their local community affairs and the government of their individual states. This, of course, was without financial rewards and at a time when travel and communications were not convenient. Also, signing the Declaration of Independence made them guilty of treason, which was punishable by death.
In the year 1776, the Continental Congress was in session, and trying to determine how to respond to Britain’s actions. The Boston Tea Party had been three years earlier and the battles of Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Fort Ticonderoga were also in the past. The British military forces had decided to leave Boston. They had set up a blockade along the coast from Maine to Florida, and it was uncertain where and when an invasion would take place.
On June 10, 1776, the congress authorized the writing of a declaration leading to separation, but the final vote was postponed until July so that the delegates could get instructions from the separate states. Thomas Jefferson and four others, including John Adams, were to write up the proposed document.
July 1 was hot and humid in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Debate in the congress began again on the decision to declare independence. John Dickinson, from Pennsylvania, spoke fervently against the proposal. His reasons were that the colonies were not ready for this big step, and not yet prepared to fight the dominant country in the western world. Other speakers spoke for, and some against the proposal. Reports reached Philadelphia during the night that 100 British ships were sighted off the entrance to New York Harbor, about 100 miles away. Eventually 300 ships entered the harbor and troops began landing on Staten Island, NY on July 3.
July 2, 1776 was the day for the big decision in Philadelphia. New York abstained from voting. John Dickinson and Robert Morris, both from Pennsylvania stayed away, which allowed that state to vote for the declaration. South Carolina had been reluctant but decided to join with the majority. The voting, with one abstention, was unanimous in favor of independence. This is the day the colonies decided to become an independent country and defy the might of England. The news spread rapidly that night and any British spies would have easily gotten the message.
On July 3 discussions and debates took place in congress over the exact wording of the declaration. Many minor and a few major revisions were made to Jefferson’s plan. On July 4, 1776, the wording was finalized and John Hancock, president, and Charles Thomson, secretary to the congress, were the only persons to sign that day. The other delegates would sign later when a final, official copy would become available. John Dickinson never signed but did serve in the Revolutionary War and later as governor of Delaware. He faithfully followed the majority decision at this important time. Eventually 56 men would pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the United States of America, and many would lose their lives and their fortunes, but not their honor.