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July 4, 2012

The 4th of July 1776

Kevin E. Dayhoff

If you think that politics are interesting today, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress, has certainly been romanticized and sanitized over the years.


In some respects, the 4th of July has been quite literally sanitized. When the Continental Congress was meeting, at the time in Philadelphia, outbreaks of pestilence and disease were a constant tension for the representatives meeting in the heat and close proximity to the swamps and lowlands of the Delaware River. Of particular annoyance was the constant presence of huge biting black flies.


No study of the events of the mid-1770s can truly make any sense without understanding the backstory that takes you back to 1760 when King George III inherited the throne of England.


Sadly, King George was truly nuts, as in several French fries short of a happy meal. It has been hypothecated that he suffered from a hereditary blood disorder, porphyria, which if untreated can cause mental illness.


To make matters worse, in 1763, George Grenville had become prime minister of England. His elevation to prime minister was, to a great extent, the result of political spin, misinformation, and style over substance. A man who had fallen in love with himself at first sight, he had manufactured a reputation as a financial expert.


In a moment of perfect timing, such a person, although devoid of people skills, was perceived to be needed by England to pay for the disastrously expensive French and Indian War, fought on behalf of a “bunch of ungrateful colonists” from 1754 to 1763. Great Britain’s national debt had doubled while fighting the war.


For that matter, economically, the American Revolution was a disaster for the United States. The war cost $1.2 billion in 1990 dollars. The economic headaches as a result of the war had a direct impact on the writing of the U.S. Constitution and the formation of our government and it can be said that, today, the economic impact of the War of Independence remains a political factor.


King George III suffered a nervous breakdown in 1765 and, by July of that year, the Grenville ministry had quickly fallen from power, but the die had been cast, for which it would take almost 20 years for England to recover.


By the mid-1770s, the political tension and personality conflicts in the colonies were only overshadowed by the regional squabbling over issues of money and trade; and, of course, how to deal with the most powerful nation on the planet at the time, mother England.


When the 55 representatives from 12 colonies (Georgia was a no-show) met as the first Continental Congress, from September 5, 1774, until October 26, 1774, the purpose was not to declare independence, but to attempt to negotiate a series of unpopular pieces of revenue and tax legislation adopted by the British Parliament.


In an interesting moment in ‘what if’ trivia, not only did the First Continental Congress extend an invitation to each of the original 13 colonies, but Quebec, Saint John's Island, Nova Scotia, East Florida, and West Florida were also invited.


By the time, the First Continental Congress, which by the way, met in secret, had adjourned in October 1774, it had overcome their dislike for one another enough to develop a series of responses and requests which were forwarded to England.


Congress drafted the Articles of Association on October 20, 1774, which developed a compact among the colonies to boycott certain British imports and to cease exports to Britain.


The fact that the representatives were able to overcome their differences to form even an “association” is noteworthy, but its potential at altering British colonial fiscal policy was cut off by the outbreak of open fighting in 1775.


By the time the colonies send representatives to meet as the Second Continental Congress beginning on May 10, 1775, the “Great War for the Empire,” as it was being referred to in England, had deteriorated into the American Revolution, beginning with the haphazard Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.


The threat of open conflict with the colonies was not supported by 40 percent of the English population.Some historians suggest that only a majority of the government officials were for the war and the majority of the British population were against the war. By a vote of 270 to 78, a measure to seek reconciliation with the colonies was voted down.


As a result, a noticeable number of British officers resigned their commissions and the 1888 Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “some of the English middle classes wore mourning for the dead at Lexington” … and “the great cities took open ground in favor of the colonies.”


By August 23, 1775, King George III issued a proclamation of the existence of open rebellion.


Congress decided to form a committee on June 11, 1776, to draft a proclamation that the colonies desired to completely sever ties with England.


The Declaration of Independence was essentially drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson’s draft document was subsequently revised 86 times. The final Declaration of Independence, as we know it today, was approved several minutes after 11 PM on July 4 – in a secret session of Congress. The document itself was not signed until August 8.


Over 230 years later, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Politics is just as nuts; but our country, warts and all, stands as a beckon of hope, freedom, and opportunity for the rest of the world.


Whether it is in the Middle East, and in more than 120 countries throughout the world, American men and women in uniform unflinchingly serve our country and make sacrifices while others quibble, pontificate, misrepresent, and equivocate


Please join me in thanking these selfless heroes. Happy Fourth of July and May God Bless America.


… I’m just saying. . . . .


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