Joe Boyles – Guest Columnist
On Monday, July 4th, we celebrated America’s Independence Day, literally the birth date of our nation. What happened 235 years ago to create our rift with Great Britain and set in motion a new concept for a new nation? It is an interesting story.
The Colonists beef with the mother country had to do with taxes which they felt were unwarrantly levied. How could Parliament tax their subjects in the new world when they weren’t represented? The phrase, “no taxation without representation” resounded as angry subjects called for secession at public gatherings.
As fighting broke out, the citizens of the 13 colonies were divided on the issue of independence. About one-third favored independence while another third opposed it. The remaining third sat on the fence. Across the Atlantic, England’s King George III and his Parliament reacted forcefully against the rebellion. Many new troops and a naval flotilla set out for America to put down the anarchy.
In Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress convened to debate the legal position of the colonies. Three of the top-tier Founding Fathers – Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson – were in attendance and debated the fate of the new nation. Each played an important role. John Adams, the influential lawyer from Braintree, Massachusetts was one of the principal debaters. Through the late winter and spring, the debates carried on. There was no rush to judgment; these delegates understood full well the gravity of their actions. Slowly, most but not all of the doubters were assured that independence was the proper course of action.
An important concept for these delegates was the idea of Federalism that they represented the will of their individual state governments. The mid-Atlantic colonies were particularly hard to bring aboard. They looked to Pennsylvania, their most populous member for guidance. Here, Benjamin Franklin would play a key role.
Following the adoption of a preamble for independence on May 15, Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee offered a resolution on June 7th that read: “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.” The Rubicon had been crossed.
Lee’s resolution was not met with universal acclaim; again, the mid-Atlantic states were holdouts. Slowly but surely, the delegates from these states began to receive positive signals from their respective state governments that the resolution had their support.
A Committee of Five (John Adams of Massachusetts; Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut) was appointed to draft the formal resolution. The committee agreed on an outline and turned to their youngest member, Jefferson to write the draft.
The brilliant Jefferson, then just 33 years old, wrote a masterful work which included perhaps the most brilliant and important phrase in the English language: “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 …” The draft was presented to Congress and the debate renewed.
By July 2nd, all of the state delegations were onboard and the crucial vote was taken. The draft was adopted. To his dying day 50 years later, John Adams swore this was the true date of independence. The next day was spent amending the draft to its present form. On July 4th, the final draft was approved by a second vote and became the Declaration of Independence. It was not signed that day. The clerk had to transcribe several copies of the final declaration. Signing the final document would happen throughout the rest of the summer.
And thus, a nation was born, unlike any other nation heretofore. Before that, nations “belonged” to kings, dictators and the privileged few. This would be, as Lincoln said eight decades late, “a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.” Liberty and independence were the watchwords for the next seven years as a fledgling America struggled for independence from the most powerful nation on earth.
I often refer to the Declaration of Independence as America’s birth certificate. It was a huge and revolutionary move. The 55 signers pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” when they affixed their name. It was and is a great moment, not only for our nation, but for freedom across the globe. Today, we still are “a bright shining city on a hill” for freedom-loving peoples everywhere. Happy birthday America!