Thoughts about July 4, 1776

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Thoughts about July 4, 1776

The Declaration of Independence has always had a special importance in our family because one of our ancestors was among the 56 who signed it. In anticipation of this year’s Fourth, I recently re-read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution and Joseph Ellis’ Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence. As we again celebrate Independence Day, these are some of historians’ key points to keep in mind:

o Had the colonial troops been defeated, the Declaration would have been a death warrant for those who signed it…and they knew that when they signed it.

o General Washington and his “citizen soldiers” defeated what was then considered the greatest military force in the world on both land and at sea.

o About 60% of the adults in the 13 colonies were Royalists.

o Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration and previously spoke for many colonials when observing, “Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.” (November 29, 1775)

o Most authorities seem to agree that the “enemy” was not King George III; rather, monarchy as a form of government in combination with a Draconian parliament and taxation without representation.

o The influence of the greatest thinkers of the European Enlightenment or Age of Reason cannot be exaggerated, notably Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Baron de Montesquieu.

o Boston was the gravitational center of the revolutionary spirit (Sam Adams) whereas Virginia provided the philosophical and military leadership (Jefferson and Washington, respectively).

o For eminently sensible reasons, most leaders from other states were reluctant to go to war with England. Ratification eventually passed by a single vote, cast by Caesar Rodney of Delaware.

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  1. Fred Alekel on August 2, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Alas, the photo above depicts
    George Washington presiding
    over the Constitutional Convention
    of 1787. The Declaration was,
    of course, worked on and passed in
    this room 11 years earlier in June
    and July 1776. John Trumbull’s portrait
    of that event with the 5 charged to craft
    the completed draft of the Declaration
    would go better with your article. The
    painting by Trumbull hangs in the
    Capitol Rotunda in Washington.

    • bobmorris on August 6, 2014 at 5:17 am

      Quite right. I have replaced it wth Trumbull’s painting. Thank you for calling this to my attention.

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