Monday, July 4, 2011

Declaration of Independence

Images: PD US Wikipedia: Jean Leon Jerome Ferris, Writing the Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson wrote the document. Here we see Benjamin Franklin and John Adams helping with the initial and relatively minor editing. They were the committee to draft it. There were also two others who did not make any changes, at all, to what Jefferson wrote.

 This is at Jefferson's house in Philadelphia. As you can see he was a naval wargame collector and used large ship models. (see top)

These men fully expected to be hanged for treason and that is exactly what the British were trying to do. Of the 56 Signers, many did suffer, and so did some of their wives and much of their property. Several were caught and mistreated in prison including the prison hulk ship out in the harbor at New York. That's another story of its own.

When they were satisfied they put the document before the rest of the Congress Assembled and there were major changes made before they agreed on it. The document as signed and published, after the changes, has 1337 words and as such it is not that difficult to read it. I recommend that you do read the text itself, rather than only what someone tells you about it or what it means.

I will continue to tell you just that a little bit though, for the sake of completeness. And I have another link to make it a lot easier for the visually-oriented.

The major changes largely had to do with slavery--and around 500 words were cut out before they all agreed on what's left of it. It would be very interesting to see those words too, but I have to hurry to the Salt Mines through the holiday crowds.

By the way, fireworks are illegal in this state, and they are exploding all over the place every few seconds. D---the King.

The important point for this article is that these words were in there from the start, but had to be cut out to get agreement. For them the main point at hand was to set out reasons to dissolve all ties to Great Britain.


Also some northern seaport states found anti-slavery language objectionable on grounds that it would be bad for their business, not so much their need of having slaves themselves. They had Irish and other indentured servants and cheap labor available generally in those parts, then as now. I fall in the last category myself.

So those parts were objectionable to southern states generally, and in particular South Carolina and Georgia objected to those parts. Jefferson himself was the number two man from Virginia, behind Richard Henry Lee. It is interesting to note he not only had slaves, but is widely believed to have a very large family of descendants through them. That is why it would be interesting to see those other 500 words, and important to know they were originally there.

Speaking of Richard Henry Lee ( as in the later Robert E. Lee) Adams thought July 2nd would be remembered by posterity, because that was the day Lee proposed the resolution, and this document only put it into a writing. But the date on the document is what caught on, because of the proclivity people have to appearances and style over substance generally, then as now.

So then at 1337 words it was signed and published. When published in the newspapers it was typeset instead of handwritten.

There were 56 Signers. John Hancock put his extra big, front and center because he wanted to make sure King George could see it without his spectacles. We still refer to signing a document as 'put your John Hancock on there.'

Here is how it looked in the newspapers.

would a click embiggen?

At the time these men were meeting to sort out legal details and documents, the British army and navy had pulled out of Boston in March, leaving lots of good stuff behind, and sailed up to Halifax, Nova Scotia to do some regrouping, training and wait for fresh reinforcements from Europe. The trip across the Atlantic could take more or less six or eight weeks and depended on weather, tides and currents.

There were Hessian and other German troops in the contingent that came to join up, and this whole vast combined fleet was already anchored off New York even as these scenes were happening. The next military steps would be the Long Island and New York campaigns.

Inside New York, where the British had not yet landed for their main invasion, people heard about the Declaration and here is what they did:

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, Pulling Down the Statue of King George

You can read about it more here.

And as promised for those who are visually-oriented or also audio, here is Morgan Freeman and his friends performing it, which he will explain is how it ought to be done. This is a vid for 14:26 and is in solid Hollywood style, with many famous faces and voices at the Congress Room in Philadelphia.

And remember the British fleet with 30,000 men is already riding at anchor not too far away, looking for their heads.

Another interesting assignment for your next vacation to Washington, DC is to make a careful note exactly which key phrases do NOT appear in the granite and marble edifice the Jefferson Memorial, even though it appears to have these ringing phrases. Some are not there.


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  1. A very interesting read, I didn't know some of this info, but what can you expect from a Brit!!

  2. I always expect the unexpected, and provide time for tea and biscuits.

    The expected would be to skim and look at pictures, maybe watch the Morgan Freeman movie. Unexpected, you called it a read.

    Discussions over here centered on Jefferson's mistress so far, with people not logged in to comment. And I think I want some of those Tumbling Dice 1:4800 ships. Look how Jefferson painted his.

  3. But what's the ship doing on the ceiling? Does he secretly know that one day in the future there will be flying ships??

  4. He has Franklin right there. They may have posited that.

  5. Anything that upset the Brits was alright with me, damn royalists but good info sir, a lot I did not know.

  6. Hi, Onion

    My old friend Manuel from Ecuador used to always pronounce that as Awn-Yawn when he was saying what he liked in his dinner.

    Some dip-dunk launched a yellow rocket over me on the highway tonight; they didn't run out of ammo yesterday. Last night some other muthajoka launched one of those roadside devices that lights up bright white before the thunderclap within 25m of me. Both times in too much of a hurry to strike back.