Celebrating The Declaration of Independence on July 4th
Dear Friends & Neighbors,
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Besides fireworks, I believe today, July 4, 2017, is a good day to celebrate the history of Declaration of Independence of United States, excerpts from wikipedia (in italics), below:
The Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer under British rule. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America. John Adams was a leader in pushing for independence, which was passed on July 2 with no opposing vote cast. A committee of five had already drafted the formal declaration, to be ready when Congress voted on independence.
which Congress would edit to produce the final version. The Declaration was ultimately a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The next day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” But Independence Day is actually celebrated on July 4, the date that the Declaration of Independence was approved.
After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as the printed Dunlap broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The source copy used for this printing has been lost, and may have been a copy in Thomas Jefferson’s hand.
Jefferson’s original draft, complete with changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson’s notes of changes made by Congress, are preserved at the Library of Congress. The best known version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is popularly regarded as the official document, is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. This engrossed copy was ordered by Congress on July 19, and signed primarily on August 2.
The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, references to the text of the Declaration were few in the following years. Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric (as in the Gettysburg Address of 1863), and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
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.
This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language”, containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history”. The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and argued that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence inspired many other similar documents in other countries; the first being the 1789 Declaration of Flanders, issued during the Brabant Revolution in the Austrian Netherlands (modern-day Belgium). It also served as the primary model for numerous declarations of independence across Europe and Latin America, as well as Africa (Liberia) and Oceania (New Zealand) during the first half of the 19th century.
Now, please allow me to share the historical background behind this tremendous piece of article, excerpts from wikipedia, below:
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.
Historians have often sought to identify the sources that most influenced the words and political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence. By Jefferson’s own admission, the Declaration contained no original ideas, but was instead a statement of sentiments widely shared by supporters of the American Revolution. As he explained in 1825:
Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.
Jefferson’s most immediate sources were two documents written in June 1776: his own draft of the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, and George Mason‘s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Ideas and phrases from both of these documents appear in the Declaration of Independence. They were, in turn, directly influenced by the 1689 English Declaration of Rights, which formally ended the reign of King James II. During the American Revolution, Jefferson and other Americans looked to the English Declaration of Rights as a model of how to end the reign of an unjust king. The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and the Dutch Act of Abjuration (1581) have also been offered as models for Jefferson’s Declaration, but these models are now accepted by few scholars.
Jefferson wrote that a number of authors exerted a general influence on the words of the Declaration. English political theorist John Locke is usually cited as one of the primary influences,
a man whom Jefferson called one of “the three greatest men that have ever lived”. In 1922, historian Carl L. Becker wrote, “Most Americans had absorbed Locke’s works as a kind of political gospel; and the Declaration, in its form, in its phraseology, follows closely certain sentences in Locke’s second treatise on government.” The extent of Locke’s influence on the American Revolution has been questioned by some subsequent scholars, however. Historian Ray Forrest Harvey argued in 1937 for the dominant influence of Swiss jurist Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, declaring that Jefferson and Locke were at “two opposite poles” in their political philosophy, as evidenced by Jefferson’s use in the Declaration of Independence of the phrase “pursuit of happiness” instead of “property”
By the time that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in July 1776, the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain had been at war for more than a year. Relations had been deteriorating between the colonies and the mother country since 1763. Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase revenue from the colonies, such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767. Parliament believed that these acts were a legitimate means of having the colonies pay their fair share of the costs to keep them in the British Empire.
Many colonists, however, had developed a different conception of the empire. The colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, and colonists argued that Parliament had no right to levy taxes upon them. This tax dispute was part of a larger divergence between British and American interpretations of the British Constitution and the extent of Parliament’s authority in the colonies. The orthodox British view, dating from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was that Parliament was the supreme authority throughout the empire, and so, by definition, anything that Parliament did was constitutional. In the colonies, however, the idea had developed that the British Constitution recognized certain fundamental rights that no government could violate, not even Parliament. After the Townshend Acts, some essayists even began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all. Anticipating the arrangement of the British Commonwealth, by 1774 American writers such as Samuel Adams, James Wilson, and Thomas Jefferson were arguing that Parliament was the legislature of Great Britain only, and that the colonies, which had their own legislatures, were connected to the rest of the empire only through their allegiance to the Crown.
The Declaration became official when Congress voted for it on July 4; signatures of the delegates were not needed to make it official. The handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by Congress is dated July 4, 1776. The signatures of fifty-six delegates are affixed; however, the exact date when each person signed it has long been the subject of debate. Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams all wrote that the Declaration had been signed by Congress on July 4. But in 1796, signer Thomas McKean disputed that the Declaration had been signed on July 4, pointing out that some signers were not then present, including several who were not even elected to Congress until after that date.
The Declaration was transposed on paper, adopted by the Continental Congress, and signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress, on July 4, 1776, according to the 1911 record of events by the U.S. State Department under Secretary Philander C. Knox. On August 2, 1776, a parchment paper copy of the Declaration was signed by 56 persons. Many of these signers were not present when the original Declaration was adopted on July 4. Signer Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire was seated in the Continental Congress in November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.
After Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4, a handwritten copy was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap. Through the night, Dunlap printed about 200 broadsides for distribution. Before long, the Declaration was read to audiences and reprinted in newspapers throughout the thirteen states. The first official public reading of the document was by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8; public readings also took place on that day in Trenton, New Jersey and Easton, Pennsylvania. A German translation of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia by July 9.
President of Congress John Hancock sent a broadside to General George Washington, instructing him to have it proclaimed “at the Head of the Army in the way you shall think it most proper”. Washington had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City on July 9, with thousands of British troops on ships in the harbor. Washington and Congress hoped that the Declaration would inspire the soldiers, and encourage others to join the army. After hearing the Declaration, crowds in many cities tore down and destroyed signs or statues representing royal authority. An equestrian statue of King George in New York City was pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.
British officials in North America sent copies of the Declaration to Great Britain. It was published in British newspapers beginning in mid-August, it had reached Florence and Warsaw by mid-September, and a German translation appeared in Switzerland by October. The first copy of the Declaration sent to France got lost, and the second copy arrived only in November, 1776. It reached Portuguese America by Brazilian medical student “Vendek” José Joaquim Maia e Barbalho, who had met with Thomas Jefferson in Nîmes.
The Spanish-American authorities banned the circulation of the Declaration, but it was widely transmitted and translated: by Venezuelan Manuel García de Sena, by Colombian Miguel de Pombo, by Ecuadorian Vicente Rocafuerte, and by New Englanders Richard Cleveland and William Shaler, who distributed the Declaration and the United States Constitution among creoles in Chile and Indians in Mexico in 1821. The North Ministry did not give an official answer to the Declaration, but instead secretly commissioned pamphleteer John Lind to publish a response entitled Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress. British Tories denounced the signers of the Declaration for not applying the same principles of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to African Americans. Thomas Hutchinson, the former royal governor of Massachusetts, also published a rebuttal. These pamphlets challenged various aspects of the Declaration. Hutchinson argued that the American Revolution was the work of a few conspirators who wanted independence from the outset, and who had finally achieved it by inducing otherwise loyal colonists to rebel. Lind’s pamphlet had an anonymous attack on the concept of natural rights written by Jeremy Bentham, an argument that he repeated during the French Revolution. Both pamphlets asked how the American slaveholders in Congress could proclaim that “all men are created equal” without freeing their own slaves.
William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who had fought in the war, freed his slave Prince Whipple because of revolutionary ideals, believing that he could not both fight for liberty and own a slave. In the postwar decades, other slaveholders also freed their slaves; from 1790 to 1810, the percentage of free blacks in the Upper South increased to 8.3 percent from less than one percent of the black population. All Northern states abolished slavery by 1804.
The Declaration was neglected in the years immediately following the American Revolution, having served its original purpose in announcing the independence of the United States. Early celebrations of Independence Day largely ignored the Declaration, as did early histories of the Revolution. The act of declaring independence was considered important, whereas the text announcing that act attracted little attention. The Declaration was rarely mentioned during the debates about the United States Constitution, and its language was not incorporated into that document. George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was more influential, and its language was echoed in state constitutions and state bills of rights more often than Jefferson’s words. “In none of these documents”, wrote Pauline Maier, “is there any evidence whatsoever that the Declaration of Independence lived in men’s minds as a classic statement of American political principles.”
Interest in the Declaration was revived in the 1790s with the emergence of the United States’s first political parties. Throughout the 1780s, few Americans knew or cared who wrote the Declaration. But in the next decade, Jeffersonian Republicans sought political advantage over their rival Federalists by promoting both the importance of the Declaration and Jefferson as its author.
Federalists responded by casting doubt on Jefferson’s authorship or originality, and by emphasizing that independence was declared by the whole Congress, with Jefferson as just one member of the drafting committee. Federalists insisted that Congress’s act of declaring independence, in which Federalist John Adams had played a major role, was more important than the document announcing it. But this view faded away, like the Federalist Party itself, and, before long, the act of declaring independence became synonymous with the document.A less partisan appreciation for the Declaration emerged in the years following the War of 1812, thanks to a growing American nationalism and a renewed interest in the history of the Revolution. In 1817, Congress commissioned John Trumbull‘s famous painting of the signers, which was exhibited to large crowds before being installed in the Capitol.
The earliest commemorative printings of the Declaration also appeared at this time, offering many Americans their first view of the signed document. Collective biographies of the signers were first published in the 1820s, giving birth to what Garry Wills called the “cult of the signers”. In the years that followed, many stories about the writing and signing of the document were published for the first time.
When interest in the Declaration was revived, the sections that were most important in 1776 were no longer relevant: the announcement of the independence of the United States and the grievances against King George. But the second paragraph was applicable long after the war had ended, with its talk of self-evident truths and unalienable rights. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights lacked sweeping statements about rights and equality, and advocates of groups with grievances turned to the Declaration for support. Starting in the 1820s, variations of the Declaration were issued to proclaim the rights of workers, farmers, women, and others. In 1848, for example, the Seneca Falls Convention of women’s rights advocates declared that “all men and women are created equal”.
Let’s remember these words that have given us so much freedom and prosperity, from different voices, once again, below:
so we will not forget what has given us such uniqueness in the human history, for our responsibility in enabling all to believe in and promote, “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 resets the clock of human history, to a new time for humankind, when we saw ourselves as freely independent individuals capable of making decisions for ourselves. It is the beginning of civil democracy when all persons may be guaranteed rights by virtual of their personhood.
One cannot fully appreciate what it is to be an American without understanding both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. In our next post, Windermere Sun bring you “Celebrating The U.S. Constitution.”
Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker
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