The Second, Fourth And Nineteenth Of July

by Bill Monson

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia offered the following resolution to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia:

''Resolved, 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.''

John Adams of Massachusetts seconded the motion; but the Congress wasn't ready to vote. On June 10th, a postponement of three weeks was agreed upon. So as not to lose time, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was voted chairman of a five-man committee which included Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston to draft a declaration.

Jefferson was usually silent in Congressional sessions but ''prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon committees,'' according to Adams, who also thought his writing ''remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression.''

It was Jefferson who actually wrote the Declaration of Independence, and it was read (in his handwriting) to Congress on July 1st. Adams reported: ''Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if anything in it was. I have long wondered that the original draft had not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery.''

The final document consisted of three parts--a statement of natural rights, 28 grievances against King George III, and Lee's resolution.

A test vote was taken the same day which showed nine colonies in favor of separation. After an evening of argument, twelve voted for independence at a formal vote on July 2nd. New York's representatives abstained because they had no instructions from their colony.

John Adams thought July 2nd would become our great national holiday. He wrote his wife Abigail on July 3rd: ''The Second 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 and sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.''

But another vote was taken after the Declaration had been printed and debated some more. On July 4th, the Continental Congress voted once again. Again it was 12 colonies approving, New York abstaining. In fact, the Provincial Congress of New York did not vote to approve the Declaration until July 9th and it was July 15th before word of the approval reached Philadelphia. On July 19th, the Continental Congress finally made their July 4th vote unanimous.

John Adams' comments on July 2nd might have missed the date by a couple days, but he got the celebration right!

Sadly, both he and Jefferson--two of the men most responsible for Independence and both of whom became presidents of the new country--died on the same day: July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 3, 2001

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