I have been blogging now for nearly 4 years and I can honestly say I have never had as much fun writing as I experienced when “liveblogging” historical events. My first effort in this regard – blogging the battle of Gettysburg – was pure joy; an exercise of imagination and scholarship that literally flung me back in time. I used the considerable resources found online and in my own library to try and bring the battle home to the reader while allowing us all to live an event vicariously that I consider one of the most important in American history.
Just as close to my heart as far as favorite pieces of writing is this series of posts I will reproduce over the next three days, originally published July 2-4, 2007. In some ways, liveblogging independence was even more fun because it allowed me to explore the blogger character a little more. What did he believe? What was he thinking? What were people around him thinking? I often wondered as a conservative, would I have been a Tory? Would I have supported the established order and backed Good King George? Or would I, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, have recognized that the American race was a new breed of people. And a new people need a new country.
Isn’t that why we love history? Allowing ourselves the luxury of going back in time, putting ourselves in our ancestor’s shoes, and asking questions like those above? By taking that concept one step further and actually traveling back in time and placing myself at the center of the action, I discovered a lot about myself while taking away a new understanding and appreciation for the efforts of our Founders.
Please view this work for what it is; an amusing exercise or parlor game and not a serious effort at scholarship. I sincerely hope you will enjoy the ride.
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 2, 1776 – the day that American Independence was literally willed into existence by the people of the United States through their representatives in the Continental Congress.
It’s 10:00 AM here in Philadelphia on what is shaping up to be a pretty significant day. I’m sitting in Carpenters Hall down the street from the State House where the delegates to the Second Continental Congress are meeting to debate and, we hope, finally vote on whether the colonies should declare themselves free of Great Britain’s oppression and create our own country.
Bloggers row here is all hustle and bustle. As usual, my friend Clayton from South Carolina is late. His manservant Henry is setting up his laptop station while Clayton is holding forth, declaiming to one and all that “I will not trade living under one tyrant 3,000 miles away for living under 3,000 tyrants one mile away.” I see Henry give his master a strange look upon hearing that statement (I read it in a Boston newspaper some months ago) – a look quickly wiped off his face as Clayton moves to his seat.
Clayton is only expressing the doubts that many of us have about this venture. In fact, most of the people I’ve talked to are more or less resigned to the fact that the rupture between our father, King George, and his children here in America cannot be repaired and that independence is therefore the only road open to us. When I heard in May that the King was negotiating with some German states to hire mercenary soldiers to fight here in America, I knew that a great chasm had opened between mother England and the colonies that could never be bridged. Damned Hessians! I hear they are savages when in battle, going so far as to murder the wounded. And what they have done to civilians is unspeakable. If this is what King George now thinks of us, he will get all the war he can handle.
And war it is. With the most powerful army in the world. General George is at the moment, finding out just how difficult a task defeating this army is going to be. He’s hip deep in Redcoats up in New York with rumors that the British will land very soon, probably at Staten Island.. I spoke briefly with General Gates a few days ago and he assured me that Washington would fail, that “the amateur” as Gates refers to our General is in over his head. I might add that Gates is angling for General George’s job so take his statements however you wish. But few military experts I’ve talked to give Washington much of a chance. In fact, I hear that Congress literally ordered Washington to try and hold New York despite it untenability. The “gentlemen” believe that it would be bad form to give up a major city without a fight.
I’ll have more thoughts in a bit once the delegates start arriving. Keep coming back to this site for updates all day.
UPDATE: 11:00 AM
The delegates are beginning to wander in. Several have come from City Tavern where I understand from a fellow blogger that there was a spirited debate over Mr. Jefferson’s draft declaration on independence which will be addressed later today. John Adams let me have a peek at Jefferson’s handiwork and I have to say it’s not half bad. The man has a way with words, no doubt about it. (Rumor has it that Jefferson blogs at the site Publius using the handle “Everyman” but no one has confirmed it.) But I suspect the delegates will all put their two cents in, mangling the piece until even Jefferson won’t recognize it.
Good news from Adams, by the way. As expected, Cesar Rodney from Delaware has made the torturous 80 mile ride to Philadelphia in order to assure Delaware’s vote for Independence. Tom McKean, the other pro-Independence delegate, assured me yesterday that Rodney, who has been in poor health due to his cancer, would be here for the big vote.
Is there a lazier specimen of humanity than these delegates to Congress? Here we are, nearly half past eleven and barely half of them have bothered to show up. The fact that they were supposed to convene at 10:00 AM tells you all you need to know about the work habits of our “Great Men.”
Looks like the vote will happen in the next hour or so. Keep checking back for further updates.
UPDATE: 1:30 PM
Trouble. Apparently both Pennsylvania and South Carolina are dealing with divided delegations and Mr. Adams is unsure how the obstacles can be overcome to bring those states into the independence column.
In Pennsylvania, it’s the brilliant John Dickinson who may singlehandedly derail the drive for independence. You may remember Dickinson’s Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms that he penned last year in response to British provocations. But he’s never been able to make the leap of logic and faith required to abandon the mother country and support America striking out on her own. He has argued passionately this last fortnight against Mr. Richard Henry Lee’s resolution of Independence, fearing a disasterous defeat at the hands of the British Army will be a huge blow to our freedoms. The specter of British troops garrisoned here for a generation along with more high handedness from Parliament has generated some sympathy outside of the State House but not much interest among those who have already cast their lot for freedom from tyranny.
At any rate, Dickinson isn’t budging and unless they can at least get him to abstain, the party may be cancelled.
South Carolina is a different kettle of fish alltogether. Arthur Middleton, an avowed patriot, is sitting in for his ailing father – a Tory of some influence in his colony. My friend Clayton assures me that South Carolina is “in the bag for independence” because Middleton is going to tip the delegation in favor of it regardless of his father’s wishes. I’m not so sure. Young Edward Ruttledge – a most able and accomplished man at 27 years old – believes that Mr. Middleton is having a hard time making a decision and he may recommend to Mr. Adams that the vote be put off for one more day. This would be a mistake in my opinion as it appears to me that independence is sitting on the knife’s edge already what with the trouble in Pennsylvania. We’ll know soon about both delegations so stay tuned.
UPDATE: 2:15 PM
Word from down the street is that a compromise in the Pennylvania delegation has been achieved. Both pro-independence member Robert Morris and Dickinson will abstain from the final vote on the Lee Resolution for Independence. This means that Pennsylvania is in the “yes” column.
And I’ve been able to confirm Clayton’s news about Mr. Middleton. He’s essentially telling his father to be damned and will vote for independence anyway. Make South Carolina a “yes” also.
So there you have it. New York has already indicated that they will abstain, having received no instructions from their legislature. However, I’m told by Phil Livingston that the entire delegation is personally for independence so that there will be no recriminations as a result of their abstention.
I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, this idea of declaring ourselves independent and facing the wrath of the mighiest empire the world has ever seen. One thing for sure; we’re going to need some friends and quickly. The Dutch have already been quite helpful. And I hear Ben Franklin is making travel plans for France. If anyone can charm the French into openly declaring for our side, it’s Franklin. He could charm the bloomers off a spinster – something I’m sure he’s done before.
I’ll have the official results of the vote when it occurs.
UPDATE: 4:00 PM
The Continental Congress has passed the resolution for independence by a vote of 12-0 with New York abstaining.
John Adams is all smiles – a rarity, that. Independence wasn’t his idea but it had no greater champion nor ardent supporter than the gentleman from Massachussetts. I overheard him dictating a letter to his wife:
“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . 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 forever more.”
I suspect that may be true. I can hear a bells in the background ringing joyously. It appears that word has spread quickly that the United Colonies are now the United States of America.
But just what does that mean? I talk to bloggers from the other states and frankly, I can’t see that we have a lot in common. Oh, we speak the same language – except I can barely understand James from New York. And we seem to have the same ideas about liberty and freedom.
Is that enough to form a nation? I’m going to have a hard time coming to grips with this idea that someone from Virginia is part of the same country as me. Virginia is so far away and so…alien. They’re nothing like folks from Pennsylvania. I guess I’m going to have to get used to it.
One thing is sure; we need a new nation even if it’s hard to see how all the pieces will fit together. We are a different people than those in England. I saw that as far back as The Stamp Act when Parliament tried to ram those taxes down our throats. My cousin in England wrote me wondering why we couldn’t just accept the taxes as a price to be paid for English protection. I told her that accepting tyranny for safety was a bad bargain. She never wrote back.
A new people living in a new nation. It remains to be seen whether these “United States” can stay united in the face of what surely will be some difficult years ahead.
Join me tomorrow when Mr. Jefferson’s declaration comes up for debate. It will probably be pretty dull but perhaps not. I’ll have updates beginning at 10:00 AM tomorrow.