Sunday, June 24, 2012

Declaration of Independence, Old School

Hear Ye, Hear Ye, a Declaration of Independence
When the Declaration of Independence was finally official, most Americans found out about it through public readings.

In celebration of that tradition, the National Park Service will host "an inspirational reading" of the Declaration on July 4th at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

It will be  accompanied by music, poetry, writings and traditional patriotic songs

According to Hopewell Furnace Superintendent Edie Shean-Hammond, the
program will be staged on the porch of the Ironmaster’s House at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4.  

Admission to the park and event is free. Click here for directions.

A previous Declaration reading
on the porch of the Ironmaster's
House at Hopewell Furnace.
The celebration of Independence Day on the Fourth of July is one of several dates that could have become seminal in American history, but ultimately really demonstrates the importance of involving the larger population in such events.

The Second Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, which  John Adams thought would be the event America celebrated.

He was so excited by the vote he wrote his wife Abigail: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."
He was right about how it would be celebrated, but wrong about when. 

As the "1776" song says, Congress voted for independence by approving a resolution provided by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first submitted on June 7, 1776.

This famous John Trumbull painting portrays the Committee of Five,
presenting their first draft of what would become the Declaration of
Independence to Congress on June 28, 1776.
On June 11, a "Committee of Five" was appointed to write a "broadside" explaining the colonies' rationale for declaring independence, if should ultimately decide to do so.

The members of the Committee of Five were a Who's Who of American history. 

They were: John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and, of course, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The committee left no minutes and recollections written years later by Adams and Jefferson are contradictory, but what is known is that after agreeing on a general outline, Jefferson was tapped to write the first draft.

After doing so, according to Wikipedia, "He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was "A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled."

Yale University's copy of an original Dunlap Broadside,
the form it was first presented to the American public.
Throughout July 1, Congress debated whether to declare independence and agreed 9-1 (with two abstentions) to do so. July 2 was the day the report on the vote was read out and made official.

By July 3, Congress was on the third reading of the draft presented by the Committee of Five and it was on this day that the section that the denunciation of the slave trade was removed in order to secure the needed votes of the southern colonies.

Agreement was reached, but formal adoption did not occur until the late morning of July 4 and the Committee of Five re-convened to prepare the final copy as adopted.

This was not published until July 5 and not in the copy familiar to school children. Printed late on July 4, the first public copy of the Declaration it is  officially known as the "Dunlap Broadside."

It is unknown exactly how many broadsides were originally printed, but the number is estimated at about 200. John Hancock's eventually famous signature was not on this document; his name appeared in type under "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress", with secretary Charles Thomson listed as a witness.

The inscription of Jefferson's tombstone.
Although the specifics of the adoption are less well-known than the many myths that surround its signing, what is undeniable is the power of the words, due in part to the mastery of their arrangement, mostly by Jefferson.

While he and Adams quibbled during their later correspondence about who deserved credit for the writing, most agree it should go to Jefferson. 

He certainly agreed, listing it as one of the three primary accomplishments of his life on his tombstone, along with founding the University of Virginia and authorship of the "Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom."

Noticeably absent from the things Jefferson wished to be remembered for were his two terms as President of the United States.

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