The Independence Day weekend seems like an ideal time for my second installment on John Adams. We celebrate profusely on this weekend, some even to excess, believe it or not. And for the document itself, we owe gratitude to a number of people who labored diligently to produce the document that we call the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson was of course the author but the work involved many others of whom Adams may have been the most important. He was seemingly everywhere at once and at one point served on 26 separate committees. There were 54 other men who put their names to the document and chose to ” mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” All knew they would have to pay a high price and that they did.
Perhaps the famous part of the document was Jefferson’s lines eloquent lines from paragraph two that affected the human spirit as neither he nor anyone else could have forseen. They speak to us still, some 234 years later.
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.
What did Adams have to say about the final result ? This he wrote to Abigail.
The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch 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 shows, games sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.
So he have his days confused? Not at all . The original vote did occur on Tuesday, July 2 with 12 states in favor and New York abstaining in order to make the vote unanimous. They voted again 2 days later with the day of celebration occurring on July 8. The actual signing did not take place until August 2.
There would however be yet another fateful day in July for Adams and Jefferson. By 1826, July 4 was ensconced as the nation’s day of birth. It also marked a momentous day for the two stalwarts of independence. Both men were gravely ill, Jefferson at Monticello and Adams at Quincy, Ma. Jefferson briefly stirred after a 2 day coma but died at around 1:00 pm. Meanwhile Adams. quiet as well, stirred for a moment and sometime in the afternoon, said “Thomas Jefferson lives.” It was just a little while later at 6:20 pm that he too passed away.
…only as one looks back with hindsight’s 20/20 vision. What was the year? 1776! We date the very birth of our country from that year, focusing our attention primarily on the “doings” in June and early July that culminated in Mr Jefferson’s finest work, although it was not his alone, the Declaration of Independence.
Quite a phrase that is, even 233 years and 9 months hence. But as David McCullough writes in his excellent book of the same name, 1776 was known maybe more for its failures than successes at least as far as the Revolutionary War itself. He writes of the Battle of Brooklyn that was an American disaster, the retreat from Boston, a crushing defeat at Ft Washington and on it goes. Were it not for the near miraculous crossing of the Delaware and the victories at Trenton and Princeton, all could have been lost.
What fascinated me even more were the insights into George Washington, both good and bad. He was indeed highly thought of by his men and officers, but there were flaws. He was somewhat lacking in strategy and tactics, particularly in the early days. He showed several marked examples of poor judgment as well. But, perhaps the key as McCullough writes, he never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up. In both his words and deeds, the concept keeps recurring, perseverance. As Nathaniel Greene so aptly foresaw,” he will be the deliverer of his own country.”
But perhaps for me this next showed Washington at his best and foreshadowed his attitude towards the presidency and the near hero worship status he was accorded. In late 1776, Congress gave him, for a period of six months, near dictatorial powers. A lesser man could have done irreparable damage to the country while edifying himself above civil authority. In our time , in many countries, we have seen that very thing. But this was his response.
” Instead of thinking myself freed from all civil obligations by this mark of their confidence, I shall constantly bear in mind that as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are firmly established.”
The Father of his county indeed and a good example to follow.
The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads thusly: ” 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 scared honor” . Stirring words are they not and ones that should be read and pondered periodically, along with the remainder of the document.I suspect that most of us are woefully inadequate when pressed for knowledge of our declaration, much less those who wrote and signed it. Sure, we know of Jefferson and Franklin and Washington among others. But each of those 13 colonies had at least one and usually more than one representative.
For today, I want to briefly mention those from my home state of North Carolina. They were John Penn(who I had completely forgotten) William Hooper and Joseph Hewes.None of course was born in North Carolina. Penn came from Virginia to Granville County, Hooper from Boston to Wilmington and Hewes from New Jersey to Edenton.
There is so much one could say but I just want to illuminate them a bit and help assure that they are not totally forgotten. Penn and Hooper were in their mid 30′s when they signed , with Hewes about 10 years older. None lived very long afterwards. Hewes died first in 1779, Penn in 1788 and Hooper in 1790. One can safely assume that the rigors of the Revolution had to play a role in this. In fact, Hewes was serving the Department of Naval Affairs when he died .
Penn and Hooper were lawyers while Hewes was a wealthy merchant and sponsor of one John Paul Jones. Hooper for his trouble was disowned by his father and barred from the practice of law. he also had property destroyed and barely escaped British capture.
There is not a wealth of information about them as after the revolution they really were not around to make a visible impact. But they were there at the beginning and for that, along 53 other men, we owe them much.
We left the story of the bell hanging yesterday, although it actually hasn’t hung in quite a while. Sorry, just couldn’t resist. Anyway, moving forward. Anything as old as the Liberty Bell ( 250+ years) is bound to have a lot of trivia and a bit of hyperbole to it. And so it does.
Being a big fan of history( if I could have figured out how to make a living at it, I should have gone into the field after college) , I love all the stories and the names and dates associated therewith. As we said yesterday, the bell originated in London where it was cast by Whitechapel Foundry at a cost of 150 pounds, 13 shillings, 8 pence. This cost also included shipping and insurance.
Some 9 months later, a crack was discovered which apparently came from a sort of test ringing. Two workmen named Pass and Stow were hired to repair the crack and also got their names on the bell. After their repair ( by adding copper) the bell’s sound apparently was a bit disappointing to those who heard it. Even so, it was hung in the statehouse steeple. But, a new bell was ordered and it also sounded unsatisfactory. Bell#2 was hung in a cupola on the statehouse roof and handled the mundane ringing, while #1 bell rang only on special occasions. In fact, it soon began to be rung over every perceived English grievance, so much so, that in 1772, some complained about the noise. That sounds like a good 21st century move, huh? Little did they know that the bell would eventually be silenced. The beginning of the end can be dated from 1774 when the first problems were noted with the steeple.
In 1777, the bell was hidden lest the British capture it. On its journey it was guarded by a North Carolina colonel named Thomas Polk. When it returned, the discovery of even more deterioration in the steeple caused it to go into storage for 7 years.It was finally rehung 1n 1785 and rang 2 years later when the Constitution was ratified. Alas, it did not ring when the Declaration of Independence was first read. It also rang periodically on momentous occasions, particularly on the deaths of famous Americans.
This next is very interesting and I had no clue about it. In 1828, the decision was made to have a new bell cast by foundry owner John Wilbank. He was supposed to haul away the old bell, but did not. This being America, even then, a lawsuit ensued for Wilbank breaching his contract with the city of Philadelphia. He argues that the $400 value of the bell was less than his cost to dispose it. Calmer heads sort of prevailed and the judge crafted a cool compromise. The city would keep the bell and Wilbank paid court costs. The catch was that the Wilbank family felt they owned the bell and were “loaning” it to the city.Periodically members of the family agitated for it to be returned but in a 1915 agreement agreed the city could keep it as long as it stayed in Independence Hall. Of course, governments being what they are, the city moved it a block or so and in 1984 almost lost it again.
In 1837, the name Liberty Bell was first used in an abollitionist pamphlet and it stuck. Sort of fitting, I think, although belated. The great crack occurred on February , 1846 when it was rung for the 100th celebration of George Washington’s birth. In a somber article just 2 days later the Philadelphia Public Ledger bemoaned the fact that the bell was “irreparably cracked and dumb”. Beginning in the 1880′s the bell was actually well enough to make several road trips. One went all the way to San Francisco.
Obviously, I could go on. But just a couple more cool facts. On December 31,1926, to celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday,microphones captured the sound of the bell itself as it was struch witha specially designed hammer. More recently, On April 6, 2001 it was attacked by a somewhat deranged tourist, fortunately suffering minor damage.
See, history is fun, even if it is just about a Bell.
Today, we celebrate Memorial Day, although we should be celebrating on May 30. You could almost call it a forgotten holiday or a “mis-celebrated” holiday. It is, alas, thought of most often as the beginning of summer and the vacation season. But, if we pause to remember, it is far, far more.
This is not necessarily a day to celebrate wars. It is a day to honor and remember those who, many on a volunteer basis, gave of themselves and many times gave their all. As the Declaration of Independence so eloquently states”… pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
As those men put their all on the line in 1776, the men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard have done so since the days of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish- American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As well, there have been have numerous conflicts, skirmishes, etc where soldiers and sailors have given their all.
As one who did not serve, it is somewhat embarrassing to to just say thank you. In itself, it is very inadequate but nonetheless should be said repeatedly.
I close with a small montage of photos in honor and memory of all who have served.
So , remember the over 43 million who have served and the almost 700,ooo who have died from the Battle of Bunker Hill to Tikrit and all points in between.
So, today, fly a flag, salute a vet but remember.
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