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The British Are Coming!

Happy Independence Day to our readers in the United States. It’s July 4 and the nation is celebrating. A quiz on a radio station prompted me to go back and read the Declaration of Independence. The question was about exactly what happened on July 4, 1776. Was it when the Declaration was written, agreed by Congress, signed, or what? Having only studied American history for a short time while growing up in England, I was a bit sketchy on the subject. I guessed correctly, but only because I figured that the date that it was signed would be too obvious an answer.

In fact, the “Committee of Five” (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson) drafted the Declaration of Independence between June 11 and July 1, 1776. Thomas Jefferson made the initial draft, then Adams and Franklin made changes to it. Congress made some alterations and deletions to it on July 2, 3, and the morning of the 4th. Late in the morning of July 4, the Declaration was officially adopted. It was then printed and distributed to the states for signing. The document was signed by most of the members on August 2, 1776. George Wythe signed on August 27. On September 4, Richard Henry Lee, Elbridge Gerry, and Oliver Wilcott signed. Matthew Thornton signed on November 19, but Thomas McKean, the delegate from Delaware, didn’t sign it until possibly as late as 1781! Although he voted for it on July 4, he was off at war in the intervening years, so his signature doesn’t appear on the official 1777 version. The exact date that he signed it is unknown.

I remembered having written some homework on the subject of the Declaration of Independence, but as that’s no longer available, I went back to read the document again. It starts out dramatically, has a long and rather boring middle section, detailing the bad behavior of King George III, but ends powerfully with the very strong statement – “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, or War of Independence, had started a year before and the ratification of the Declaration of Independence created the United States of America, though the war would drag on until 1783. Thankfully, the relationship between the warring nations gradually improved, culminating in the USA coming to the aid of a beleaguered Great Britain in 1916 and again in 1942. I’m extremely thankful for the latter as US sailors gave me my first chocolate, chewing gum and bananas, while we were still on WWII rationing until 1953.

Although the small part of the land area that they ruled in 1776 is now a fraction of today’s United States of America, the British didn’t do too badly over the years. It’s a little ironic that the United Kingdom now owns a greater proportion of US companies and property than any other nation. Anyway, just remember, as I remind my American friends every year, you only got this holiday as a result of the British!

Reference: The Declaration of Independence – full text.

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