Two days ago we celebrated the birthday of our country, the United States of America, by observing this national holiday with picnics, celebrations and fireworks.
Two hundred thirty seven years ago, fifty six brave men representing the thirteen original colonies signed this document which severed our ties with King George III and caused the war of Rebellion or American Revolution to continue for another seven years. These freedom fighters or revolutionaries risked life, limb and property to stand up for what our freedom.
The majority of the country was content with being subjects of the crown, and many really were not interested in removing the King's iron grip from the colonies. Fortunately these men felt and acted otherwise. I spent some time this week researching the interesting facts that surround the Declaration's drafting and adoption.
The colony with the least number of signers happens to be the one whose state has the longest official name "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations".
This tiny state had two signers for the Declaration, Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery.
Our state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, had the most number of signers, nine. They were Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson and George Ross. Franklin at age 70 was also the oldest man to sign the Declaration.
The youngest signers were 26 years old and named Thomas Lynch, Jr. and Edward Rutledge both of South Carolina. The average age of the signers was 45.
While all of the men who defied George III by signing this document became our Founding Fathers, none of them were actually born in the United States.
There are some interesting coincidences with regards to the fourth of July. One President in our history was born on the fourth of July, Calvin Coolidge.
Three Presidents died on the fourth, James Monroe in 1831 and John Adams as well as Thomas Jefferson on 1826. The latter two Presidents were also the only signers of the Declaration to serve as Presidents.
Another signer Benjamin Harrison was the father of two Presidents, William Henry Harrison their son and Benjamin Harrison who was their great grandson. Adams son, John Quincy Adams also served as President. The longest surviving signer of the Declaration was Charles Carroll of Maryland who lived to be 95 years old and died in 1832. Nine signers actually died before the Revolution ended in 1783.
The Declaration of Independence was drafted through the spring of 1776 in part as a response to George III's Stamp Act and the Coercive Acts which were his attempts to leverage repayment for the French Indian War and other costs for quartering the British Army and being colonies of the crown. The colonists refused to submit to the taxes which they believed were arbitrary and subjective especially since they had no voice in Parliament to debate their merits. When the Declaration was adopted on July 4th, we officially severed ties with Britain and at that point 80% of the colonies supported the rebellion while 20% were still loyal to the crown.
John Hancock signed the Declaration as President of the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776 but the remaining signers did not sign until much later. The last signer was Matthew Thornton who did not add his name until November 1776.
While many believe Thomas Jefferson authored the document, in reality he was one of a committee of five founding fathers who penned the draft which Jefferson finalized and was comprised of Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman. Livingston who said he felt it was too early in the colonies existence refused to sign the document he helped write.
Hancock reportedly said his signature was so large because he wanted King George III to know who headed the rebellion. Only his signature was on the document on the day of its adoption.
All fifty six signers became traitors upon signing the Declaration but their names were hidden from the public until 1777 to protect them from the British Crown's wrath. Signing the document was punishable by death as an act of treason.
Two hundred copies of the Declaration were printed as broadsides and sent throughout the colonies so they could be read to the people. In New York, the reading of the document to the Continental Army resulted in a riot. These broadsides were known as the Dunlap Broadsides and today only 26 of them are thought to remain. The last sold for several million dollars when it was found hidden behind a portrait at a yard sale a few years ago.
The copy on display at the National Archives is not the originally signed decree. This copy left the Capital only twice in our history, once during the War of 1812 and the second time was during WWII to protect it from possible German attack by housing it in Fort Knox.
There is a great deal to learn from these Founding Fathers who stood up to the tyranny of the British Crown. They were bold, they believed in their cause and they were resolute in their actions. They struggled to survive and in the end they made it. Thanks to their courage and strength we have become a beacon of freedom for countries throughout the world.
Unfortunately that freedom we enjoyed for almost 237 years has eroded in recent times as we allow the government to become our caretakers.
Our founders would warn us to avoid allowing the abridgement of our freedom. I wonder quite a bit what they would say if they could see us now and the mountains of government regulations that have evolved. Perhaps they would revolt again.
Hope you are having a happy holiday weekend. Happy Independence Day, readers.
Til next time…