Faithful readers of The House will recall that in previous years, my “Liveblogging the Battle of Gettysburg” occupied this site at around this time. Sadly, I have taken that project about as far as possible and declined to involve myself with it this year.
But over the last months, several of you have urged me to “liveblog” an historical event using a similar premise – that the internet existed at the time and that I could then link to and comment on the event from the perspective that we were all living it rather than viewing it from afar.
You asked for it. You got it. Let’s go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1776 and the background on how the final version of the Declaration of Independence came about. (I liveblogged the vote on independence here.)
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Bloggers row here at Carpenter’s Hall is beginning to resemble the Congress. Even though it’s 10:00 AM - the time appointed for Congress to open deliberations – most bloggers and delegates are nowhere to be found. I’m sure some bloggers (and no doubt some delegates) are recovering from having tasted a wee bit too much of “the creature” as my grandmother would say. There was a big celebration at City Tavern last night in honor of Mr. Adams and independence. I was there for a while but bowed out early to walk the streets and try and gauge the reaction among the population to the news that the American colonies had cut the apron strings and were no longer part of England.
There were many who appeared extremely pleased at the news. There was also a considerable number of people who appeared uncertain or even fearful. And there were some Tories who were already packing and preparing to leave the city. Judging by the rumblings I’ve heard from some patriots, it may not be safe for those whose loyalties still lie with King George.
For those who were happy at the prospect of independence, a giddy sort of confidence seemed to capture them and the thought of what lies ahead didn’t seem to faze them. This was not, I hasten to add, some kind of raw hysteria but rather a belief in themselves and their abilities to overcome the numerous obstacles that lie in our path.
I have noticed this trait in many of my fellow
colonists Americans (!). When faced with a daunting challenge, they seem to have a supreme sense of being able to face the trial with a stout heart and clear eye. I suppose some of that comes from the fact that just a few short decades ago, this city was a dense wilderness full of savage beasts and even more savage men. Having hacked civilization from the primeval forests, perhaps we Americans feel that we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.
A Frenchman of my acquaintance commented on this very thing – and not very favorably I might add. He thought this confidence was insufferable arrogance. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. But I feel that if this is indeed, an “American” way of looking at the world, it will hold us in good stead during the tests we will have to face in the next few years.
My sojourn among the people of Philadelphia last night impressed upon me the unique character of the American race and convinced me even more of the worthiness of our cause. And that cause will be shouted to the world when Congress gets finished with rifling through Mr. Jefferson’s declaration proclaiming our independence. As I mentioned yesterday, I was able to get a brief glimpse of the secret document and from what I saw, it seemed a fair piece of writing and thinking by the Virginian.
You may recall that Mr. Jefferson was charged with drafting the document by the so-called “Committee of Five” – Mssrs. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Livingston (NY) and Sherman (CT) even though all were supposed to have a hand in creating the document. My understanding (and I’ll have more on this later in an update) was that Jefferson’s draft has already undergone some minor revisions by Franklin and Adams so that a “fair” copy was now in the hands of Congress. I may have some specifics later on the kinds of edits made by the Committee but that depends on whether I can get my hands on a copy or not.
Make sure you check back for updates later.
UPDATE: 12:45 PM
Congress is now in session and going over Mr. Jefferson’s declaration with a fine tooth comb. I was able to secure a copy of the Virginian’s original draft before the Committee of Five reworked it. I understand they made 49 mostly minor alterations. And in my opinion, improved on it.
For instance, here’s the introduction written by Mr. Jefferson:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to assume among the powers of the earth the equal & independant station to which the laws of nature & of nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the change.
We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles & organising it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness…
And here’s the altered text after the Committee of Five made some interesting changes:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Note the subtle change in tone. And I especially approve of the change from the original of the passage “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable…” written by Jefferson to the much more demonstrative and confident “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
It appears that Jefferson could be long winded at times and I believe the Committee of Five wisely cut back on the verbiage, substituting short, declarative statements – perhaps sacrificing a little style but this isn’t a writing contest we’re in here. We’re trying to convince the world of the righteousness of our cause. Anything that helps in that regard should be embraced, although I hear that Jefferson is already grumbling about fiddling with his masterwork.
We’re getting an audio only feed from the State House regarding the changes being made to the Declaration. At the moment, the delegates seem stuck on some of the reasons Jefferson has given for the seperation. Many of them don’t like the way the document blames the English people for what they clearly consider a fight with Parliament and the King. Anything that seems to criticize our English cousins is being removed. A not unwise move but considering all the flak we’ve taken from the “English people” about the justice of our cause, I really could care less if we offend them or not.
I recall Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great man of letters, telling a correspondent a few years ago “Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of Negro slaves?” That kind of offensive statement is exactly why most of us feel that the English people, while blameless to a certain extent, nevertheless should be chastized for their support of this parliament and their tyrannical actions.
And Dr. Johnson may get his comeuppance with Jefferson’s screed. There’s this passage about our “Negro slaves” that Johnson can take and stick where the sun don’t shine:
...he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
It is, after all, the Crown’s fault that there’s slavery here in the first place. And it has been British ships that brought the poor unfortunates to our shores. Why not blame England for this ” execrable commerce” as Jefferson calls it?
I know Ben Franklin has started up this “Abolitionist Society” which wil agitate to free the Negroes but to my mind, that’s crazy. Three million ignorant savages suddenly freed to fend for themselves? It would be madness!
No – better that they remain slaves. At least until we can educate them to be upstanding Christians and not animal worshippers.
Mr. Ruttledge of South Carolina has already told his delegation that he will pull South Carolina out of the Congress if this passage makes it into the final draft so watch out later for some fireworks.
I’ll have one more update close to supper time.
UPDATE: 5:30 PM
Great excitement! Mr. Ruttledge and Mr. Adams had a knock down, drag out shouting match over the slavery section I quoted above. Ruttledge feels personally insulted by the passage and threatens the unity of the Congress unless it is stricken from the declaration. Adams believes that we can’t ignore the issue of slavery. To do so makes us hypocrites in the eyes of the world.
What to do? Both men have a point. By condemning the slave trade, do you not also condemn those who buy the slaves? And how is it possible to claim our own country on the basis of freedom while keeping millions in bondage?
My own feeling is that the issue isn’t worth tearing ourselves apart. The slavery issue will probably solve itself if we leave it alone and let the states that allow it to deal with it in their own time. After all, I wouldn’t want some Georgia planter telling me how to live my life. I’m not about to tell him what he can do with what is, after all, his own property.
But Adams is adamant about keeping the passage in the declaration and Ruttledge is steaming mad. Keeping one ear on the proceedings, I see where even some northerners are siding with Ruttledge so it seems inevitable that the passage will be struck from the final draft.
This is one argument we can’t afford right now – not with the British Navy darkening the horizon in New York Harbor. Colonel Milford of the Continental Army told me this morning it is likely that General Howe has more than 25,000 battle hardened troops to throw against our little army of 15,000, mostly made up of poorly trained militia. I fear for New York and Washington’s little army but there’s nothing for it – Congress has deemed it necessary for the General to stand and fight and fight he will of that I’m certain.
A word here about Washington. I saw him last year when he arrived for the beginning of this Second Continental Congress. He would stride purposefully into the State House every day, a grave, serious look on his face and a martial bearing accentuated no doubt by the fact that he wore his Virginia militia uniform. Some said at the time that he was angling for the command of the army. I have no doubt that is true but it is also true that there isn’t another man in the colonies who could have accomplished what he has done in such a short period of time. He outmanuevered the British in Boston, levering them out of the city by fortifying Dorchester Heights right under their noses. And of course, during the Seven Years War his otherworldly courage displayed at the Battle of the Monongahela where he almost singlehandedly saved the British army from total disaster with a skillful retreat, had his name on the lips of everyone in America.
I like General Washington. He inspires confidence – a quality that doesn’t appear in either General Gates or that ridiculous fop of a General, Charles Lee. Whether that will be enough against a superior British force bearing down on him in New York remains to be seen.
Congress has adjourned for the day. There will be another session tomorrow so make sure you check back. I’ll probably have an update around 10:00 AM.