When you think of the 4th of July, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?? After barbecues, picnics, softball games, going to the beach, etc., of course. Probably, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is, of course, why we are a free nation today.
I think, sometimes, that we have made saints of the men who signed the Declaration. They were hardly that. There is a movie called, "1776", that I have enjoyed watching many times. If you haven't seen it, please do. It does more to humanize these men than any other thing I've seen.
These men came from all walks of life. Some were plantation owners who had slaves (among them Thomas Jefferson), some were lawyers, some were preachers, some were career politicians, some had been soldiers, but all were the cream of their state and had been chosen by the people to represent them in Congress.
Each man had his own agenda, according to his beliefs or political leanings, just like the men in Congress today. Each man strongly spoke out when the issue of independence was raised - some more than others.
First, there had to be a document written in order to put their ideas down on paper. So they appointed a committee of 5 men (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston) to draft a document. Since Thomas Jefferson was the best at writing prose, it was decided that he would be the one to write it. It took him days of writing and rewriting to come up with a workable or "fair" document. Then, Adams, Franklin and the committee revised it. It went through 47 alterations (including the additon of 3 paragraphs) before they agreed that it could be presented to Congress.
Next, Congress had to agree on it. Talk about a tall order. We have 58 men, all with their own thoughts on the subject, who have to agree on one document. They voted on July 2, 1776 for independence, but even after that, they still did more refining on the declaration - finally making a total of 39 more revisions. I think you can safely assume that Thomas Jefferson was not a happy camper at this point.
On July 4, 1776, with all revisions in place, Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence. They then ordered it printed and John Dunlap made several copies to be distributed (these are now called "Dunlap Broadsides - 24 of which are still in existence).
"One of the most widely held misconceptions about the Declaration is that it was signed on July 4, 1776, by all the delegates in attendance" (It actually wasn't signed until August 2nd). "John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches. He used a bold signature centered below the text. In accordance with prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location of the states they represented. New Hampshire, the northernmost state, began the list, and Georgia, the southernmost, ended it. Eventually 56 delegates signed, although all were not present on August 2. Among the later signers were Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton, who found that he had no room to sign with the other New Hampshire delegates. A few delegates who voted for adoption of the Declaration on July 4 were never to sign in spite of the July 19 order of Congress that the engrossed document 'be signed by every member of Congress.' Nonsigners included John Dickinson, who clung to the idea of reconciliation with Britain, and Robert R. Livingston, one of the Committee of Five, who thought the Declaration was premature."
There are several scenes in "1776" that stick out in my mind. One is humorous. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were discussing what the national bird should be. John said it should be the eagle, Thomas said it should be the dove, and Benjamin?? His choice was the TURKEY!! *giggle* He said it was such a noble bird and it was served at the first Thanksgiving. Of course, we all know that the national bird is the Bald Eagle.
The next scene that sticks in my mind is a young boy, maybe 15 years old. He was the messenger from General George Washington to Congress. He had been in the wars and seen his best friend shot down. The next day, his friend's mother came looking for her boy on the battlefield, but the boy was hidden. The messenger sings a song that brings tears to my eyes every time, because it's the words of his dead friend calling to his mother to "look sharp" for him. It makes you think of all the young boys who lost their lives to give us our freedom and all the mothers who lost sons in a long, unforgiving war.
The last scene that I remember very well, is where John Adams, of Massachusetts, and Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina, are arguing about the issue of slavery and the addition of clauses in the Declaration which would essentially outlaw it. Rutledge argues that the north isn't as lily pure as they would like everyone to believe. The north provided molasses to make rum, the rum was then used as coinage to buy slaves. The slaves were sold on auction blocks in the north as well as the south. It makes you think about the way things were in those times. The lines weren't as finely drawn as they were in later years. At the end of the argument between Rutledge and Adams, the southern delegation walked out. This was Congress' darkest hour. They had to make a decision, if the part about slavery wasn't stricken from the Declaration, the south would not sign it. In the end, it was decided that slavery was an issue best decided at a later time, the issue at hand was independence.
On July 4, 1776, we declared to the world that we would no longer be ruled and tyrannized by England. It was the beginning of our fight to be a free nation, governed only by our own laws. This is the legacy of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence.
(Quotes taken from A History of the Declaration of Independence)
Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light,
What, so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Who's broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the rampart we watched were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Francis Scott Key (written while in the belly of a ship being attacked)
OUR PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.
The Declaration of Independence - the whole document