This month we celebrate 244 years since the Declaration of Independence was passed by the Second Continental Congress. I’m a bit of a history buff, and I enjoy looking back at significant events and getting a sense of how things came together. The founding of our country is among my favorite topics.
Here are a few facts from the summer of 1776 that you may have forgotten from history class, or perhaps never knew. It was Member of Congress Richard Henry Lee who proposed the resolution for independence from Great Britain. And, it was actually passed and adopted on July 2, not July 4. Here’s what happened.
Lee originally presented the resolution for independence to Congress about a month earlier on June 7. On that day, though, it was clear that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet ready to vote for independence. There were some pretty serious conversations that occurred over the ensuing weeks. The representatives of the seven colonies who were in favor of declaring independence were doing their best to convince the six doubting colonies that a break from England was the right thing to do.
During those nervous weeks, Congress agreed to delay the vote on Lee’s resolution until July 1. Shortly after the June 7 session, Congress appointed a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence. Members of the committee included John Adams (Massachusetts), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Robert Livingston (New York), and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). It was widely agreed that Jefferson was the best writer of the group, so he was selected to be the primary author of the document. It was presented to Congress for review on June 28.
As agreed, the debate on the Lee resolution was resumed on July 1. Immediately, there was a majority in favor, but Congress agreed that it was critically important to have it pass unanimously. To ensure this, they delayed the final vote until July 2. On that day, 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor, with the New York delegation abstaining, unsure of how their constituents wanted them to vote.
After the historic July 2 vote, John Adams wrote that July 2 would long be celebrated as the most memorable epoch in the history of the United States of America. Instead, July 2 is largely forgotten in favor of July 4, the day that Jefferson’s final Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress.
A lot has happened in the 244 years since the summer of 1776, but the excitement that led to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence would certainly rival any of the events that came after. The current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic will surely be long remembered, but I doubt that it, or any other event, will ever overshadow those critical summer days of 1776.
Please stay safe, put in practice the advice of health professionals, and let’s soon declare independence from the coronavirus.
By Mayor Ray Smith