declaration of independence
When the British Colonies, also known as the Thirteen Colonies or the early United States, were founded in the 1600s, the colonies were left to govern themselves for the most part. The land was really an expansion of power for Britain. Nevertheless, there were wars that took place in the new land and with them the costs of war, and because the colonies were owned by the British government, the cost of war fell on them. The cost of victory in the 1754 to 1763 French and Indian War and the 1756 to 1763 Seven Years’ War left the British government deeply in debt. The wars were fought in the colonies, but were equipped and populated with the British forces stationed there, at the cost of millions of British funds. The British government decided to impose The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts to pay for the wars, which provoked colonial opposition and unrest, leading to the 1770 Boston Massacre and 1773 Boston Tea Party. Then, came the Intolerable Acts, meant to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their defiance in the Tea Party protest in reaction to changes in taxation by the British Government, in spring 1774 upon Massachusetts. It was enough. These acts took away self-governance and rights that Massachusetts had enjoyed since its founding, and triggered outrage and indignation in the Thirteen Colonies, and twelve colonies sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, from September 5, 1774 to October 26, 1774. Their goal was to draft a petition to the King and organize a boycott of British goods. It was these acts…the acts that took away self-governance and other rights that triggered outrage and indignation in the Thirteen Colonies. We have often heard it called “taxation without representation” and it would never be tolerated. This nation had tasted freedom, and would never go back. These acts were key developments in the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in April 1775.
The Revolutionary War was not going to be a short war. It would rage from April 19, 1775 to September 3, 1783…eight long years. For seven years after the United States Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress at its meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776, the war still raged on. I don’t suppose any nation would want to simply lay down its control, but the reality is that Britain had lost its control many years before, and it was time to cut their losses and go home.
It was on June 11, 1776, that the Continental Congress made the decision and selected Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert R. Livingston of New York to draft our Declaration of Independence. That moment truly sealed the fate of the Britain ownership of this nation. The words they penned would be taught in schools, put on documents, t-shirts, decals, and many other forms of media. Because John Adams knew of Thomas Jefferson’s prowess with a pen, he urged him to author the first draft of the document, which was then carefully revised by Adams and Franklin before being given to Congress for review on June 28. I don’t know how many have ever read the entire Declaration of Independence, but I have chosen to place it in its unedited entirety, because I think we need to know why our founding fathers fought so hard for our independence. The 4th of July is not about picnics and fireworks, it is about freedom, and we must never forget that…nor the five men who wrote it and the entire congress who signed it.
The Declaration of Independence
“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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The American Revolution was a serious embarrassment to Britain, and especially to King George III. The king had to admit that things weren’t going well in the colonies…at least not where Britain was concerned. By now, the colonists had signed the Declaration of Independence that summer, and they were not going to be moved from achieving their goal to be a sovereign nation.
On this day, October 31, 1776, the king give a speech to the British Parliament, telling them about the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence and the revolutionary leaders who signed it, saying, “for daring and desperate is the spirit of those leaders, whose object has always been dominion and power, that they have now openly renounced all allegiance to the crown, and all political connection with this country.” I’m sure he felt that the colonists were rebels, who were not worth wasting time on by now, and he hoped he could walk away from them without losing face any more than he already had. The British never intended for the United States to be anything more than the colones. The king went on to inform Parliament of the successful British victory over General George Washington and the Continental Army at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, but warned them that, “notwithstanding the fair prospect, it was necessary to prepare for another campaign.” Somehow, the king had the idea that there was still hope to keep the colonies.
Despite George III’s harsh words, General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, still hoped to convince the Americans to rejoin the British empire in the wake of the colonists’ humiliating defeat at the Battle of Long Island. They hoped to do thing peacefully, but that was just not to be. The British could easily have prevented Washington’s retreat from Long Island and captured most of the Patriot officer corps, including the commander in chief. However, instead of forcing the former colonies into submission by executing Washington and his officers as traitors, the Howe brothers let them go with the hope of swaying Patriot opinion towards a return to the mother country. The Howe brothers’ attempts at negotiation failed, and the War for Independence dragged on for another four years, until the formal surrender of the British to the Americans on October 19, 1781, after the Battle of Yorktown. The freedom of the United States was not going to be taken from them…and that was a serious embarrassment to Britain.
With our nation’s Independence Day upon us, I find myself, like many other Americans, in a rather weary and confused state. So much about our country has changed, that it has almost become unrecognizable to me. The United States of America has always been known as the land of the free and the home of the brave, but now it seems that we are becoming the land of the free, only if we agree with what a select few want, and as for the brave, well it’s becoming very much out of style to stand up for our beliefs, values, or even for our country. I’m not picking on any one group here, but rather I find myself feeling quite sad that the sense of pride we have always felt for our nation is suddenly gone…at least in the minds of some people. I know that everyone really has a right to live their life in the way that they want to, but the problem is that lately everyone wants to tell everyone else how to believe. With that in mind, I thought it fitting to remind people about why our ancestors came here in the first place.
When our forefathers left England, it was to get away from a government that made it a treasonous act to separate from the Church of England. The people who did not agree with the teachings of the Church of England had to leave or they would be killed. That was the reason that the First Amendment to our Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” These were very important parts of our Constitution. The problem is that many people have forgotten those rights, or they have mixed up the meaning, thinking that we are not to have anything to do with religion in our government. That isn’t it at all. It says that the government is to stay out of our religious beliefs. That is not what is happening. Our current government is far too invasive in our religions.
As time went on, England tried to usurp more and more authority over the young colonies. They tried to interfere with religion, economics, and politics. Even though we were a nation basically under them, we knew it could not continue much longer. It was decided that we needed to be independent from England. That was when we knew that we could not continue to be under this type of rule. So, why do we celebrate the 4th of July…Independence Day. We think of July 4, 1776, as a day that represents the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation. But it wasn’t on July 4, 1776 that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence. That was on July 2, 1776. It wasn’t the day we started the American Revolution either. That had happened back in April 1775. And it wasn’t the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He did that in June 1776. It wasn’t even the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain. That didn’t happen until November 1776. It wasn’t even the date it was signed. That was August 2, 1776.
No, we celebrate the 4th of July, because that was the day that the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, in 1776. They’d been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2nd and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes. That was the day that truly represents our Independence. Not the day it was accepted by Britain, but the day we decided to make it our own. That was the day we made freedom and independence our own. It was the day that we decided to live in peace together, with each man, woman, and child having certain rights that should never be denied them. I think some people in our country, and especially our leadership have forgotten that fact in their race to political correctness, anti-racism, and a thinly disguised attempt to control our religious rights.
I have always known of my family’s relationship to Princess Diana, and I also knew about the Knox family’s relationship to James Knox Polk, who is Bob’s 2nd cousin 5 times removed, but in more recent years I have come across, or as one family member put it, tripped over a line of presidents on my side of the family as well as Bob’s. It seems that both of us are related George HW Bush, my 15th cousin once removed, and George W Bush, who is my 15th cousin 2 times removed. We are also related to, although in a roundabout way, Andrew Jackson, the husband of aunt of wife of 1st cousin 6x removed of my husband, Bob…I know, that one is a little bit complicated.
I did not know of the Spencer connection to, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George Washington. I also did not know of the Knox connection to the family history to Kentucky Frontiersman Daniel Boone, Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; his son, William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States; his great-grandson, Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States and…President George Washington. At this point, I don’t know at what level we are related to these, but I am finding out that Bob’s family history and my family history are intermingled in several areas. Now that I have some of this information, I look forward to putting these people into my family history, so I can find out how we are connected and who else might be in the family.
I have also found out that on the Spencer side of the family, Henry and Isabella Lincoln Spencer, who lived in the 1400’s, had a very large influence on the United States, as well as England, through their offspring. And, I have found out that John and Jean Gracy Knox, who lived in the 1700’s, also had a large influence in American history through their offspring. It is very strange to me to look at the people in history, knowing that at the time they had children, they had no idea what impact those children and their descendants would have on the world. To be an American president or a signer of the Declaration of Independence, made these men very well known throughout history. Even a frontiersman from Kentucky who probably never gave any thought to what the future of our nation might be at the time he was doing his part to go down in history, has managed to become an endeared character in all the history books, as well as, in television shows and movies. Who would have ever thought that could happen?
It’s odd to think that, depending on what we do with our lives, any one of us could stand out in the history of the nation and the world. Little did anyone think of the future when they began whatever cause they held close to their heart, and yet, just a short time down the road, they have become a household name, written in every history book, with parks, schools, museums, and airports, named after them. I wonder if they had any inkling just how big they were going to become. It is mind boggling just to think back on it now, and I’m not them. Of course, they didn’t really know how big they would be at the time they were becoming so big. Still, the presidents had to have known at the time they were elected that they had joined an elite group of men, and that would never change from that point on. Good or bad, right or wrong, the decisions they made from the first day of their presidency to the last, would be on record as either a testament or detriment to the man. I think that, in itself, would be a daunting thought, but in reality, they couldn’t think about that much when the decisions that affect a nation are in their hands. Just like their predecessors, they are a part of a long line of presidents, and some of them, are a part of my family.