Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy birthday!

Today, the Declaration of Independence turns 229 years old. On this date in 1776, it was adopted (not signed) by the Second Continental Congress.

The Congress had voted on July 2nd to declare independence. For this reason, John Adams thought we'd celebrate that day, not the 4th:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
(source: Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts)

Only a year earlier, on July 6th, 1775, the Second Continental Congress adopted the "Declaration Of The Causes And Necessity Of Taking Up Arms" that Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson had prepared. Apparently Jefferson's original draft was too strongly worded, and the compromise was a document that explained and justified the colonies' rebellions, though ultimately assuring that they were not -- not yet -- declaring independence:
Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow-subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. -- Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. -- We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great-Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offence. They boast of their privileges and civilization, and yet proffer no milder conditions than servitude or death.
Over the following year, peace with Great Britain became impossible. On June 11th, 1776, Jefferson and several others, including John Adams and Ben Franklin, formed a committee to draft a document that unequivocally proclaimed the colonies as "Free and Independent States." Again, Jefferson's original was reworded for being too strong. For years afterward, he sent copies of each to friends, asking which they preferred. (Source: Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts)

Britain had been gradually eliminating its taxes, and ultimately the colonials waged civil war over a tax of merely three pence per pound of English tea. Principle was more important. Consider how much more fiercely our Founding Fathers would have fought over a quarter, a third of their paychecks being confiscated:
We are reduced to the alternative of chusing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force. -- The latter is our choice. -- We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. -- Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.


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