ABOUT THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – BETTER LATE THAN NEVER – Marilyn Armstrong

Independence Day Quiz

1] July 4th 1776 is famous for what?

The official signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was completed on July 2nd and hand-distributed to the people at the convention. The 4th is when the printed version was finished and distributed to the colonies.

2] How many American colonies went to war with Great Britain in the War of Independence?

Thirteen. Our lucky number.

3] Where was the first shot fired in the American Revolution?

Either Lexington or Concord. Garry thinks it was Lexington. The actual battle was fought on a field between the two towns (they are very close together) and is recreated annually at dawn on April 19th (1775). That’s why we have a Massachusetts holiday called Patriot’s Day on or about the 19th of April. It’s a state, not a national holiday. That’s when we have the Boston Marathon. It’s a big deal, at least in Massachusetts.

I’ve been to the recreation of the battle a couple of times when Garry was covering the story.

4] Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?

Philadelphia. Independence Hall. Been there. Have pictures.

5] Which Founding Father did NOT sign the Declaration of Independence?

Robert Livingston — who was one of the authors — felt it was too early to declare independence and didn’t sign.

“Founding fathers” isn’t a real “thing.” The people who signed the Declaration of Independence were the heads (governors and senators or just really rich guys) who controlled the colonies rebelling against George III –and were important members of their houses of Congress or otherwise elected officials.

There were other people who were significant in the founding the country though many were not important until AFTER the war was over, like Hamilton who was essentially a kid when the declaration was signed. So many who did not sign it hadn’t achieved the status they got after the Revolution. Also, some were very young when the Declaration was signed. They were founding fathers too, but a bit young to be signing anything.

Not everyone who was later very important to the country was a member of the group who wrote and released the document. And yes, Benjamin Franklin definitely DID sign. He was the Ambassador (one of them) to England and France, so he was there. And he signed. He was also very important in convincing the southern contingent to sign the Declaration AND the Constitution — and sadly, one of the people who helped keep this a slave-owning country. I understand why he did it, but it was the Devil’s bargain and we have paid heavily for it.

Many of the people who DID sign the Declaration of Independence were not founding fathers, but they were important to the states they represented. Probably anyone who signed the Constitution was a founding father, but that was in September 1787 — eleven years later and a very different thing.

The founding of this country wasn’t an event. It was a process. As I said, “founding fathers” isn’t an official thing. There’s no list of who they were because essentially everyone who was important in creating the government for the first few dozen years was a founding father.

Signers of the Declaration of Independence:

      • John Adams
      • Samuel Adams (John’s cousin and later the guy who made beer — really, no kidding and his family still make beer and ale)
      • Josiah Bartlett
      • Carter Braxton
      • Charles Carroll
      • Samuel Chase
      • Abraham Clark
      • George Clymer
      • William Ellery
      • William Floyd
      • Benjamin Franklin
      • Elbridge Gerry
      • Button Gwinnett
      • John Hancock
      • Lyman Hall
      • Benjamin Harrison (grandfather of the Benjamin Harrison who became a U.S. President).
      • John Hart
      • Joseph Hewes
      • Thomas Heyward, Jr.
      • William Hooper
      • Stephen Hopkins
      • Francis Hopkinson
      • Samuel Huntington
      • Thomas Jefferson
      • Francis Lightfoot Lee
      • Richard Henry Lee
      • Francis Lewis
      • Philip Livingston
      • Thomas Lynch, Jr.
      • Thomas McKean
      • Arthur Middleton
      • Lewis Morris
      • Robert Morris
      • John Morton
      • Thomas Nelson, Jr.
      • William Paca
      • John Penn
      • Robert Treat Paine
      • George Read
      • Caesar Rodney
      • George Ross
      • Benjamin Rush
      • Edward Rutledge
      • Roger Sherman
      • James Smith
      • Richard Stockton
      • Thomas Stone
      • George Taylor
      • Charles Thomson (Secretary, attested to Hancock’s signature)
      • Matthew Thornton
      • George Walton
      • William Whipple
      • William Williams
      • James Wilson
      • John Witherspoon
      • Oliver Wolcott
      • George Wythe

There were TWO signings.

The first, before it was printed and distributed took place on July 2, 1776. Everyone signed the official and PRINTED version (July 4, 1776). This is a well-argued point of historical order. Most people feel anyone who signed the final printed version is “official.”

6] When did July 4 become a federal holiday?

In 1870 it became a national holiday. However, unofficially, it was celebrated from the beginning, especially in New England.

7] Name of the film starring Bill Pullman, Will Smith & Jeff Goldblum

Independence Day, but it had nothing to do with Independence. I always wondered how Goldblum’s computer worked after running full on for more than a week without ever being recharged. I want THAT battery.

8] Which president was born on July 4?

Calvin Coolidge.

9] But which presidents died on July 4th?

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died simultaneously on July 4,  1826. Ironic, because they were enemies and hadn’t spoken to each other for many years. I think they had reestablished a written relationship toward the end of their lives. Weird, but true. Monroe died on the 4th in 1831.

10] Name of the film starring Bill Pullman, Liam Hemsworth & Jeff Goldblum

Independence Day 2 or whatever they named it. I did not see the movie, not even on TV.

11] Which monarch reigned over the colonists at the time of the American Revolution?

George III

12] Who said, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me Liberty or give me death!”

Supposedly Patrick Henry in a speech he gave in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He didn’t sign the Declaration either and he isn’t a founding father, but he did make great speeches.

13] Which is the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence?

John Hancock. He was also the richest signer of the Declaration, so maybe that’s why he signed it so big.

14] Who was appointed as the commander in chief of the British army in America in April 1776?

Howe, I think. I forget his first name. He was not the last or only one. There were a bunch of them.

15] “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”? is found on which document?

Declaration of Independence. But they didn’t mean anyone who wasn’t white. Some people meant it (the northerners), but the rest of them didn’t.


And how, you ask, did I actually know this stuff off the top of my head (no, I didn’t look it up except for the second Independence Day movie which I’ve never seen)?

Glad you asked. I judged the history category of the Audie Awards for a couple of years. One year, I swear I listened to a thousand pages of American history, mostly about the revolution and the Constitutional Convention. I hadn’t done much reading in that area of history, but I sure did catch up!

Also, note that George Washington was not a “founding father” because he wasn’t part of the group who wrote the Declaration. He WAS part of the group who wrote the constitution. He gained a lot of points for winning the Revolution.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION FOR THE UNKNOWING – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

American history is no different.

It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third-grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. We wanted to be British. Why? Because there was no America. There was no U.S.A. Creating the U.S.A. was what the war was about, although taxes, parliamentary participation, and slavery were also major components.

We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections, to be equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on taxes.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was never the issue. Everyone pays taxes — then and now.

We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had warships and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t have anything like that. French participation was the key to possibly winning the war. Oh, and we promised to pay the war debt back to France. Lucky for us, they had their own Revolution, so when they asked for the money, we said “What money?”

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not eager to slaughter people they considered Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they might have. If they had, who knows?

Did we win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom, a short time before, they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. And of course, many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, similar to a civil war.

Boston massacre

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a big percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. They did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

No one in the British government — or high up in the army — believed the colonies had any chance of winning. They were convinced we’d work it out by negotiations. Eventually. Many felt the fewer people killed in the interim, the lower would be the level of hard feelings afterward.

The Beaver and the Tea Party Museum in Boston

But, there was one huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

British surrender at Yorktown

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths. We are no exception. Now that we have grown up, we can apply some healthy skepticism to our mythology. We can read books and learn there’s more to the story than what we learned as kids. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary War also known as “The War of 1812.” It was really the second of two acts of our Revolution — which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back. The battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to return, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. By then, the war was over.

Battle of New Orleans (10 days after the Revolutionary war ended)

No one had a cellphone, so they didn’t know the war was over. I contend the course of history would be very different if cell phones were invented a few centuries earlier.

Only crazy people think guns and killing is the solution to the world’s ills.

Guns and killing are the cause of most problems. It horrifies me such people gain credence.

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was no better form of government than ours — or at least as ours used to be. No government offered better protection to its citizens.

Intelligent people don’t usually throw away the good stuff because someone lost or won an election, or a jury brought in a bad verdict. At least that’s what I used to believe. I’m not sure I was right.

An educated citizenry and a free press are our best defense against tyranny. As long as you can complain openly and protest vigorously against your own government, and the people on TV and the news can say what they will about the government — whether or not we agree with them — we are living in a free nation.

That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom.

It allows fools to rush in where angels would never dare. Support education. Encourage your kids to read. Let’s all read.

Education benefits everyone.

A 4th OF JULY TIMELINE: THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Today is America’s Independence Day. It celebrates the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, our formal statement to King George and Great Britain that we no longer were willing to retain our status as colonies.

declaration_independence

There’s more than a little confusion about which event happened when regarding the Declaration of Independence, so here’s an historical timeline (note that not everyone agrees on this timeline, but it’s close):

JULY 2, 1776: John Adams, a leader for independence, gets the delegates to the first Continental Congress to unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft of the document as he was known to be the best writer of the group.

JULY 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is ratified. Thus July 4th became the U.S.’s official independence day, although John Adams argued it should be July 2nd, the day the document was ratified (rather than the 4th on which it was signed). But Adams argued about everything.

JULY 4, 1776 through August 2, 1776: Following its ratification on July 4th, the Continental Congress announced the Declaration of Independence. It is distributed and read across the colonies. The process of reading the Declaration — getting the word out — was not instant. In total, it took about a month. By which time a more attractive document displaying all the delegates’ signatures had been produced. In any case, whether or not the colonists had read or heard the document, everyone knew what was happening. Official word took longer than men on horseback going from town to town to tell their friends and family. And of course people talked in pubs. Like they do today, but without Twitter.

JANUARY 1777: The first printed versions of the Declaration of Independence for general distribution appear. By then, the colonies are fully engaged in war and everyone already knows about it.


Jefferson’s original draft, with changes by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Jefferson’s notes of the changes made by Congress, can be viewed at the Library of Congress.

The most famous version of the Declaration, the hand-written signed document which is usually considered official, can be seen at the National Archives in Washington DC. This version was (mostly) signed on August 2, 1776.

OPPOSING IDEAS CREATE A NATION – JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation

John Ferling

Publication date: October 1, 2013

coverJeffHam-medium

One of my professors in college was Broadus Mitchell. He was the foremost Hamiltonian scholar of his day, author of multiple biographies of Hamilton and associates. Not surprisingly, my freshman year at Hofstra’s New College with Broadus Mitchell was an intensive study of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America. The textbook was (surprise!) one of the several biographies of Hamilton authored by Broadus Mitchell.

When I was given the opportunity to review this book, I was intrigued. I wondered what the author could tell me I hadn’t read elsewhere and if he could tell the story better or differently, perhaps offer some fresh insights.

I have patience with history books. I don’t expect it to read like fiction. Much to my delight, John Ferling’s opening chapters in which he compares and examines the youth, upbringing and psychological makeup of both men is beautifully written — entertaining and lively. Perceptive. Astute. What drove them, what inspired them to become the men who built America.

All was going swimmingly well for me until the war began. The Revolutionary War.

I am not a war buff. I was not expecting a play-by-play of the revolution. But there it was. Battle by battle, troop movement by troop movement. I could feel my brain switch to off. I’m not sure why the full details of the war are included. Aside from showcasing Hamilton’s military career (doable in a few paragraphs), it adds little to my understanding of either man. As far as I’m concerned, it mainly adds hundreds of pages where a page or two of summary would have sufficed.

If you are a military history buff, you will want to read it. I’ve read other accounts of the military side of the Revolution and this is as good or better than any other book I’ve read on the subject. Perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t want to read it here. It’s your choice. You can choose to skim sections. It’s a long book and there’s plenty of excellent material to engage you. When Ferling is writing about the character and personality of his two extraordinary subjects, he’s brilliant. It makes everything else worthwhile.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were two of the most influential men in American history. The author said it well when he commented (sorry, this isn’t a quote … I’m paraphrasing) that there are lots of statues dedicated to Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s world. True enough. Hamilton was the consummate advocate of a strong central government with economic control through a central bank. Jefferson advocated extreme individual freedom, leaving most government to local authorities.

It amuses me that Hamilton is the darling of the conservatives while Jefferson is a liberal ideal. Given Hamilton’s belief in strong central government and Jefferson’s preference for isolationism, individualism and decentralization — well, it pretty much defines our nation’s problem with cognitive dissonance.

If you’re a serious history buff, there is much to like, even if not every part of the book is equally gripping .

It is said that “Both men were visionaries, but their visions of the United States were diametrically opposed.” That may have been true in 1780, but it has long ceased to have any relevance. The strands of their initially opposing philosophies have twisted into a single ball. Both strands are necessary to our American dream.

Jefferson and Hamilton is the story of the struggle — public and ultimately personal — between two major figures in our country’s history. It ended when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s vice president.

Worth reading for sure, but it’s not light entertainment. This is history buff material. Fortunately, there are still a few of us around.

Of all the reviews I’ve written, I’ve gotten the most feedback on this one (especially on Amazon), both pro and con. I didn’t expect that kind of response and it’s a pleasant surprise. Apparently there are still people out there interested in history, interested enough to argue about it. I find that very encouraging. Maybe there’s hope for our future after all!

About the author:

John Ferling is professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of many books on American Revolutionary history, including The Ascent of George Washington; Almost a Miracle, an acclaimed military history of the War of Independence; and the award-winning A Leap in the Dark. He and his wife, Carol, live near Atlanta, Georgia.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Masterpiece – Revolutionary Tombstones