"When in the Course"
by Ronald M. Mann
Because of the amount of material on this subject it will be covered in two newsletters, this is part I
The book of Joshua in the Old Testament provides a wonderful introduction for this newsletter on the Declaration of Independence. As you will recall Joshua was allowed to lead the Israelites into Israel and one of the first obstacles was the crossing of the river Jordan.
"And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priest bearing the ark of the covenant before the people. And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priest that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvests,)" But then the Lord caused the Jordan to be divided even as he had the Red Sea for Moses: "And the priest that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the people were passed cleanover Jordan. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man. And command ye them, saying, take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night. Then Joshua called twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: And Joshua said unto them pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan and take ye up, every man of you, a stone upon his shoulder, according into the number of the twelve of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters Jordan were cut off before the ark of covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever." And it was done even as Joshua had commanded and the Lord again spoke to Joshua and said: "When your children shall ask their father in time to come, saying, What mean these stone? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone; That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever."(Joshua 3 &4)
The reason for selecting 12 stones and displaying them was to be a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. Today we Americans also have a memorial that should constantly remind us what God has done for us. The Liberty Bell! It truly represents the liberty that God made possible for us. There is a fable on how the Liberty Bell became the symbol of our liberty. It is contained in the story of an old bellman who had been in the steeple of Independence Hall awaiting the announcement of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days earlier, July 2nd, 1776 a resolution of political independence had been adopted and this day, July 4th it was expected to be signed. The bellman had been in the steeple since early morning awaiting a signal from a boy stationed at the door below. A declaration of liberty was expected from the patriots who were gathered there, and the old man would hastened to proclaim it when the boy below clapped his hands and shouted, 'Ring! Ring!'. This was to be the signal of the birth of the Republic dedicated to the freedom of the human spirit. It was destined to unleash the creative power and free agency of man. How appropriate that inscribed on the bell were the words from the Old Testament: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (Leviticus 25:10) That evening the charter of freedom was finally and formally approved and the signal was sent to the bell tower where the great bell, the liberty bell gave voice to the birth of liberty. It rang clear and echoed throughout the city, the states and eventually the world. The birth of Liberty and been sounded and thus a new symbol given mankind, even as the twelve rocks, to be memorized for ever - the Liberty Bell, which in fact represents our Declaration of Independence!
John Adams who, because of his involvement in getting the Declaration of Independence passed, was referred to as the "The Atlas of Independence, said of the deliberations on the Declaration of Independence: "Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, and measures in which the lives and liberties of million yet unborn are intimately interested, are before us. We are involved in the midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of nations."
This immortal declaration of the 4th of July,1776 was not the effect of any sudden passion or enthusiasm, but a measure which had been long in deliberation among the people, maturely discussed in some hundreds of popular assemblies, and by public writings in all the States; it was a measure which congress [continental] did not adopt, until they had received the positive instructions of their constituents in all the States; it was then unanimously adopted by congress, subscribed by all its members, transmitted to the assemblies in the several states, and by them respectably accepted, ratified and recorded among their archives; so that no decree, edict, statute, placard or fundamental law of any nation, was ever made with more solemnity, or with more unanimity or cordiality adopted, as the act and consent of the whole people, than this; and it has been held sacred to this day by every State, with such unshaken firmness, that not even the smallest has ever been induced to depart from it, although the English have wasted many millions and vast fleets and armies in he vain attempt to invalidate it." (John Adams 1781)
The seeds of Independence were sown long before the Continental Congress of 1776, when the colonies declared their independence--most likely when the first colonist arrived in America. Necessity had bred self-reliance and thence love of freedom and independence. With each succeeding generation the oak tree of freedom grew and flourished even though attached to the English crown. The steel umbilical cord between Mother England and her child - the colonies, was strong and fast until the 1760's.
In 1760 King George the III ascended the throne and almost immediately implemented polices that resulted in the severance of the umbilical cord strand by strand, eventually resulting in the Declaration of Independence. He first attempted to gain better enforcement of the existing trade laws. Then directly and indirectly he sought to increase the colonies' taxes. The French and Indian war was repeatedly used as the justification for increased taxes. The war had cost the Crown considerable and it was felt the colonies should help pay for it, although England had been the major beneficiary of the victory over the French. The colonies repeatedly countered the British proposals but the British statesmanship of the era was incapable of rising to the occasion. Because of the stubbornness of King George III and the stupidity of his officials the issue finally developed into a battle between freedom and coercion.
In the name of political liberty and personal rights the Americans took up arms. What it really amounted to was a protest of human beings against enslavement, powers that sought to govern without consulting the governed. Each act of the king increased the number in the choir chanting "taxation without representation." The port bill served to unite the colonies in a common cause which resulted in the First Continental Congress. Delegates came to Philadelphia from thirteen colonies in September of 1774 to discuss their common problems. They met again in 1775 and selected George Washington to head the American armies against the British. In January Thomas Paine published Common Sense , which sold over 120,000 copies in three months. In view of the small population of the country at that time, these figures were phenomenal. He asserted in Common Sense that a "thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy" and that "A government of our own is a natural right." "The sun never shined on a cause more just. The cause of America was that of all mankind," he said. No one until that time had so clearly perceived or so strikingly described the historic mission of America as the hope and asylum of free people. By the time the third Continental Congress began the population in general and a majority of the delegates in particular had changed. They were now ready to listen to arguments for independence.
On June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution. "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved." It was immediately seconded by John Adams. Although discussed for several days it was finally decided to postpone a vote on it until the first of July. Since several delegations were still not in favor of the resolution and since it was supremely important to present a united front the postponement was a wise decision.
During this time John Adams labored night and day on those opposed to it. At that time a committee of five was appointed to draft a declaration, in case the Lee Resolution should pass. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston were appointed. Thomas Jefferson was selected to write the draft because of his gift of writing. Jefferson finished his document and gave it to Franklin and Adams to preview. After their review it was submitted to congress on June 28th, 1776, the Friday before the Lee Resolution was to be considered. On Monday the Lee Resolution was taken up again and John Dickinson representing those opposed to it spoke against it for several hours. John Adams and few of the supporters argued for its passage. After nine hours of debate it was decided to postpone the vote until the next day, July 2nd. The next day Benjamin Franklin made the comment to Benjamin Rush that: ".. .We have a great task before us assigned to us by Providence.."Indeed they did, the fate of a nation hinged on the outcome!
Any Declaration of Independence was in fact, an act of treason, and those who dared sign it stood a good chance to incur the penalty meted out to traitors -- a hideous death. According to Blackstone, in English law the traitor was first hanged, then taken down while alive. Next his entrails were removed and burned while he was still living. Then his head was lopped off and his body cut into four parts. Not a pleasant thought, but a reality! Affixing their names to it immediately made them traitors and placed their families in jeopardy.
Many of their families were in hostile territory and were subject to capture by the British. They had literally staked their lives, their families and property on the colonies defeating the British - even though most felt at this time victory would be difficult at best and most likely impossible. Even should they win the prize, to thousands it would be death, injury and the destruction of their personal property. Indeed, the price of liberty is never cheap, as those involved would soon discover.
Since April 1775, the colonies had waged war against Mother England. Many of the colonist had argued that it was insanity to do so, since England was the most powerful nation in the world and the colonies were 13 separate colonies ill equipped to wage war. They were three million disparate people different in many ways and spread along a two thousands mile coastline. Unorganized with a multitude of religions, customs, and with only a third of them willing to support the war for independence - could they ever expect to win this conflict? Already angered by the American rabble throwing his troops out of Boston and the discovery that his colonies were planning to declare independence, turned King George's anger into a white rage. He would do whatever was required to quell this colonial rebellion.
Accordingly by the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence dark, very dark clouds were forming. The King's plan was to launch a three-pronged assault which would divide the colonies and quickly bring the rebels to heel. New York would be attacked by 45,000 British and Hessian troops. In the north General Burgoyne's royal grenadiers, Hessians and hordes of Mohawks were driving Benedict Arnold's ragged troops to the lower Hudson River Valley. In the south, a flotilla of warships under Sir Peter Parker was attacking Charleston with troops commanded by Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis - with orders to subjugate the rest of the region. These great battles would make an indelible imprint on the cost of liberty. They would determine the young nations resolve.
By July 2 nd , there were but three delegations in doubt and ten in favor. Because two delegates from Pennsylvania took a walk, Pennsylvania was able to vote yea for the resolution. The number in favor now increased to eleven and New York still abstained. The 12th colony of little Delaware provided a dramatic episode which resulted in a favorable vote. Casear Rodney had returned home from the convention earlier to deal with a Loyalist uprising, leaving the two delegates at the convention, one for and one against. An express rider was sent to get him. Casear Rodney left on Monday and rode eighty miles by night and day in the rain and thunder. He arrived the next day in time to break the tie. The vote in that body was now unanimous for all the colonies that were present. New York gave their support on July 9th and on July 15 word of this reached Congress.
During the convention John Adams had written to his beloved Abigal: (July 3rd 1776) "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend theses States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in the day's transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not." ( The Works of John Adams , Vol. IX, Pages 417-420)
On July 3 rd , the Declaration of Independence was introduced and debated. That morning Secretary Thomson had found on the Speaker's table a threatening note to the speaker: "You have gone too far. Take care. A plot is framed for your destruction and all of you shall be destroyed." Less than a week before another plot had been discovered to assassinate General Washington and betray his troops. The traitors of Washington and his troops had been discovered and dealt with. They proved to be loyalists. Could it be the local loyalists were trying to stop the independence movement? If so, their attempt was in vain for the delegates held their ground and voted for independence.
For the next two days they refined the Declaration of Independence and approved it on July the 4th. Under a cloud of uncertainly the 55 men eventually signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. It represented the promise of freedom - but only if they were successful in winning the war, which at that time seemed remote. In signing the Declaration of Independence they had endorsed these words; "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
Years later John Q. Adams, son of John Adams, a signer, had written: "Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedoms. I hope you will make good use of it."
To emphasize the reality of these words I would like to detail what happened to a few of those that signed the Declaration of Independence. In early September 1776, the British burned the home of Francis Lewis and seized his wife. Held in a prison with no bed and no changes of clothing, she was finally released after two years of suffering and her health gone. She died soon after her release.
Philip Livingston's 150,000-acre estate was seized by the British, but he continued to contribute his dwindling fortune to Congress for the war effort. The strain of the revolutionary struggle also depleted his health, and he died less than two years after signing.
Lewis Morris' Westchester estate was ransacked by the British and nearly 1,000 acres were burned. His home was destroyed, his cattle butchered, and his family driven from their home.
John Hart's New Jersey home was looted and burned, his grist mills destroyed. While he eluded capture by sleeping in caves and forest, his ailing wife died and his 13 children were scattered. His failing health forced him to leave the New Jersey legislature in 1779, and he died less than three years after the Declaration was signed.
Joseph Hewes of North Carolina gave tirelessly of himself to create a navy and help General Washington. Working long hours without adequate food and rest, he lost his health and died in 1779 at age 49.
Richard Stockton rushed home to Princeton, New Jersey, in 1776 to rescue his family from approaching British troops. He was captured and thrown into prison, where he was repeatedly beaten and kept near starvation. The British also destroyed his home and burned his papers. As a result of mistreatment, he became an invalid and died in 1781.
William Floyd's estate in New York was overrun and ruined by the British. He was not able to return home after the war.
Francis Hopkinson's home was twice ransacked.
Abraham Clark had two sons in the Continental Army, both of whom received harsh treatment from the British after they were captured.
George Clymers's home in Chester was takenover by the British and he lost more than 100 of his ships during the war.
Robert Morris issued over a million dollars of personal credit to finance the war effort, and raised $200,000 to defeat the British at Yorktown. In 1798, his personal finances collapsed. Never reimbursed by the country, he spent three years in debtors' prison.
John Morton was criticized bitterly by many of his Pennsylvania neighbors for breaking the tie vote of the Pennsylvania delegation in favor of independence. The criticism depressed him deeply. Early in 177 he became ill and died.
William Ellery's Newport home was burned during the invasion of Rhode Island.
William Williams of Connecticut sacrificed his fortune for the cause, financing a number of enterprises, including the Ticonderoga offensive.
Carter Braxton saw virtually every merchant ship he owned sunk or captured by the British. Although he lost his wealth and was forced to sell his land, he continued to serve in the Virginia legislature.
Lyman Hall (of Georgia), had his rice plantation destroyed by the British.
George Walton also of Georgia, was wounded and captured.
Thomas Heyward, Jr., served in the army and was taken prisoner. The British raided his plantation while he was in prison and burned his buildings. His wife became ill and died before he was released.
Arthur Middleton of South Carolina was captured and imprisoned after the British ravaged his plantation.
Williams Hooper of North Carolina was hunted by the British. He fled, and they burned his home and lands.
Thomas Nelson, Jr., served as governor of Virginia and distributed large sums of his money to the families of his soldiers. At the Battle of Yorktown, he led 3,000 Virginia militia against the British. Although the British took refuge in homes belonging to Virginians, Nelson's troops shelled them anyway. During the engagement, Nelson turned one cannon on his own home and lit the fuse, killing he two British officers inside.
Part II of this series will cover the contents, meaning and significanceof the Declaration of Independence.