In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish
OK, you’ve studied this in school, heard it in variations over and over – and then, as with so many other bits from your classes, you put it out of your mind. Except when you saw a remarkable 1972 musical, lifted almost entirely from its Broadway stage production – “1776” – to remind you once again how intense and dramatic the situation was that turned our colonies into states, free and equal. For a trip down memory lane, what about taking a glance back a few centuries with this very simplified history – a timeline for independence:
On July 4, 1776, 13 colonies claimed independence from England’s King George III. And thus was born the mightiest nation on earth: The United States of America.
Leading up to the signing, even then there had been growing unrest in the colonies surrounding the taxes that the American colonists were required to pay to England. The major objection was taxation without representation. The colonists were not permitted to send representative to sit in the English House of Commons.
Rather than attempting to negotiate a satisfactory settlement, King George sent troops to the colonies to quell any rebellion that might break out.
The following timeline will give you some idea of the history that lead to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and America’s break away from British rule:
1774 – The 13 colonies send delegates to Philadelphia to form the First Continental Congress. While unrest was brewing, the colonies were far from ready to declare war.
April 1775 – King George’s troops advance on Concord, Massachusett, prompting Paul Revere’s midnight ride that sounded the alarm: “The British are coming, the British are coming.”
Thus began the American Revolution at the battle of Concord.
May 1776 – After nearly a year of trying to settle their differences with England, the colonies, once again, send delegates to the Second Continental Congress.
June 1776 – Admitting that their efforts were hopeless, a committee was formed to compose the formal Declaration of Independence. Headed by Thomas Jefferson, the committee also included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman.
June 28, 1776 – Jefferson presents the first draft of the declaration to congress.
July 4, 1776 – After various changes to Jefferson’s original draft, a vote was taken late in the afternoon of July 4th. Of the thirteen colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration; two from Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted No; Delaware was undecided and New York abstained.
John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence.
It is said that he signed his name “with a great flourish” so “King George can read that without spectacles!”
July 6, 1776 – The Pennsylvania Evening Post is the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence.
July 8, 1776 – The first public reading of the declaration takes place in Philadelphia ‘s Independence Square. The bell in Independence Hall, then known as the “Province Bell” would later be renamed the “Liberty Bell” after its inscription:
“Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.”
August 1776 – The task begun on July 4, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was not actually completed until August.
Nonetheless, the 4th of July has been accepted as the official anniversary of United States independence from Britain.
July 4, 1777 – The first Independence Day celebration takes place. (It’s interesting to speculate what those first 4th festivities were like. By that time, in the early 1800s, the traditions of parades, picnics and fireworks were firmly established as part of American Independence Day culture.)
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 24 were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants, nine were farmers or large plantation owners one was a teacher, one a musician and one a printer.
They were men of means and education who launched the ship of State which you and I have inherited.
At the same time, they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty could be death if they were captured.
When these courageous men signed, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause of freedom and independence.
The result? Five signers were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. At least twelve of the fifty-six had their homes pillaged and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army. Another two had sons captured. Nine fought in the War for Independence and died from wounds or from hardships they suffered.
So next year, when the time comes to celebrate once again, have a happy Fourth of July and appreciate the precious gift the men of 1776 have left for you. Thanks to them, you and I are free men and women.
Actually, once a year may be hardly enough. Considering what’s going on in the rest of the world, we should make it a daily celebration – n’est-ce-pas?
Rotten Tomatoes averages: “Despicable Me 2, B; “Lone Ranger,” D+