“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal stations to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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.”
It’s been a long time since I studied the history of the American Revolutionary War, so I did some research to check my memory and was inspired to do a bit more digging. Here’s a little bit of what I re-learned.
The Seven Years War ended in 1763, and plunged the British government deep into debt. Parliament enacted a series of measures to shore up their budget, including increasing tax revenues from the American colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767, were put into place to ensure that the residents of the colonies paid their share of the British Empire’s governmental costs. By 1774, Americans such as Samuel Adams, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson were arguing that Parliament was only established to govern Great Britain, not the American colonies because each of the colonies had their own legislative bodies. Many wrote letters and published articles that supported the argument that the only connection America had to Great Britain was their allegiance to the Crown.
These authors, legislators, and citizens had a vision. A vision of an independent nation. Free from the authority of Parliament, the King, and the forced taxes and religious restrictions. Thomas Paine published a pamphlet called Common Sense which promoted colonial independence and advocated republicanism as an alternative to monarchy and hereditary rule. John Adams became famous for his oratory skills and his papers advocating for a declaration of independence from Great Britain. In fact, Adams wrote the first version of preamble to the declaration in May 1776. Eventually, Richard Henry Lee presented a three-part resolution to Congress on June 7, 1776. The motion, which was seconded by Adams, called on Congress to declare independence, form foreign alliances, and prepare a plan of colonial confederation.
On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five,” consisting of Adams, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman to draft a declaration. After discussing the general outline that the document should follow, the men decided that Jefferson should write the first draft. Once finished with the first draft, the group made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776.
The Declaration of Independence became an official document on July 4, 1776, when the delegates to the Congress voted to adopt it as presented. The now famous signatures weren’t really needed to make it official, but according to legend, John Hancock, the President of the Second Continental Congress, declared that he wanted the King to be able to read it “without his spectacles!” The fifty-six signers ranged in age from twenty to seventy and included two future United States presidents. They were brave men. Threatened by mercenaries, hated by some of their neighbors, and facing charges of treason against the Crown, they stood firmly by conviction, vision, and principle. Obviously, the King and his Parliament didn’t take too kindly to the news. Thankfully, General George Washington and his troops didn’t give up hope.
As you pursue life, liberty, and happiness this month, I hope you are inspired, as I was, to whisper a prayer of gratitude for those men, their families, and for our freedom.
Happy 239th Independence Day to you!