Lecture 3 September 2023
It was in the Spring and early Summer of 1776 when fifty-six men came together in Philadelphia to decide the future of the thirteen British colonies that then existed along the Atlantic coast of North America. The decisions they made would change the world. They met in the Pennsylvania State House, today known as Independence Hall. We celebrate July 4th as our Independence Day, and many have been taught that it was on that day in 1776 when most of those men signed the Declaration of Independence and Congress declared the thirteen colonies to be free and independent of British control. Too often what we were taught and what actually happened are, at best, close to the truth.
Those fifty-six men came from those thirteen British colonies. Three men came from Delaware; nine from Pennsylvania including Benjamin Franklin; five from Massachusetts including John Adams, second President of the United States and John Hancock who when he signed the document wrote large enough so “George could read it without his spectacles”; three from New Hampshire; two from Rhode Island; four from New York; three from Georgia; seven from Virginia including Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States; three from North Carolina; four from South Carolina; five from New Jersey; four from Connecticut; and four from Maryland. Although several men represented each colony it was decided that each colony would have only one vote thus sharing equally.
On June 11th, Congress appointed a committee of five men to draft a Declaration of Independence, John Adams (MA), Thomas Jefferson (VA), Ben Franklin (PA), Roger Sherman (CT) and Robert Livingston (NY). The committee selected Jefferson to write the first draft.
On June 28th after the committee reviewed, debated, and revised Jefferson’s draft, the revised version was presented to Congress.
From July 1st until the 4th Congress reviewed, debated, and revised the draft. It was on the morning of July 4th that Congress approved the final draft and ordered John Dunlap to print copies. Twenty-four of his copies are known to exist today. Since each colony had one vote and the tally that morning was twelve in favor and one abstention. The New York delegation had not been authorized to vote for independence, so they abstained. A week later they were authorized to add their vote making the revised total unanimous.
The Second Continental Congress was debating the Declaration when on July 2nd the British fleet and army arrived at New York harbor. Congress declared the thirteen united colonies to be free and independent of British control.
Printed copies of the Declaration were sent to various colonies and July 8th was the day the Declaration of Independence was formally read to the public. Two days earlier it had been printed in the Philadelphia newspaper.
It wasn’t until July 19th that Congress ordered the document to be officially inscribed and signed by the members of the Congress. On August 2nd the members began to sign the document. The original document is in the Library of Congress.
The document consists of several sections: an introduction, the preamble, an indictment, failed warnings, a denunciation, the conclusion, and the signatures. As an elementary school student, I was encouraged to memorize the introduction and the preamble. Probably the most famous and important sentences ever written. The introduction begins with these words . . .” When in the course of human events.‘ It establishes that governments exist with the consent of the governed and when a government fails to serve the people they have the right to change it. The preamble begins – “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” It establishes the goals and the beliefs upon which our nation was founded.
The thoughts set forth in the Declaration of Independence can be found in numerous speeches and writings of the times. In 1824 Jefferson admitted that the Declaration contains no original ideas. The ideas of freedom, self-government, equality and so forth were all pulled from the writings and speeches of his predecessors or contemporaries.
Once independence was achieved westward movement and immigration were encouraged. The history of Texas tells us about those who came from Europe and other places. In 1876 the French decided to commemorate the centennial of our independence by presenting the US with a statue. Originally named Liberty Enlightening the World. The US was tasked with building the pedestal. The government was unable or unwilling to finance the project, so the public was called upon to cover the cost. Everyone was encouraged to contribute their pennies toward the goal. It took years but eventually “The Colossus” as it was sometimes called was dedicated in New York harbor. As part of the fund-raising campaign Emma Lazarus penned a poem to be auctioned off. The poem so expressed the spirit personified by the statue and that of the nation at that time that it was cast in bronze and is now mounted in the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty stands. Its words have welcomed thousands of immigrants to our shores. There are two verses with the second being the best known –
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost (sic) to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Science tells us that our ancestors evolved in sub-Saharan Africa, probably along the southeast coast overlooking the Indian Ocean at least two million years ago. Eventually, about 200,000 years ago our ancestors moved through the Middle East and slowly settled into Europe and the vastness of Asia. Maybe a 100,000 years ago man emigrated into Australia. Eventually, they discovered and settled the Pacific Islands as far east as what we know as Easter Island and as far north as the Hawaiian Islands.
Sometime maybe 25,000 and at least 20,000 years ago man migrated to the Americas. The oldest rock art discovered so far in the Americas is in Colombia and has been dated to 20,000 years ago. Exactly how and when they came, we do not know but we know that they probably migrated out of Asia during the last Ice Age, either crossing the Bearing land bridge or along the east shore of the Pacific all the way to the tip of South America. There is also an argument that some may have migrated from western Europe. Stone tools found in our eastern states are very similar to those discovered in western Europe dated to 20,000 years ago.
My wife would sometimes remind me that her ancestors were here to greet the boat mine came on. She is at least 1/8th Cherokee. Although I do not claim any Native American ancestry, I have discovered that one of my ancestors married a Mohawk Indian in the 1600s.. About a hundred years earlier another ancestor married a woman from a small tribe living on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
In the strictest sense we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. The ideals of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” were set forth by our founding fathers over two hundred years ago. No matter how long ago, whether 100 years ago or 25,000 years ago, our ancestors came to this land looking for the fulfillment of those ideals. We should recognize that our immigrant ancestors developed this country from its tentative founding at Jamestown and Plymouth to the world leader it is today. Immigrants and their descendants tamed the wilderness, built our cities, our railroads, and our highways. Today immigrants harvest our crops, collect our trash, and do the work that many Americans refuse to do. Our so-called American culture is really a melding of cultures from all over the world. One of my early teachers stressed that the United States is a “melting pot” of various cultures. My family came to this country in several waves. Some arrived in the 1400s and 1500s, others as late as the 1800s. They all came with the dream of securing a better life for their family and their descendants. But no matter when they came or where they came from, they brought with them their customs, beliefs, and traditions.
The next time you sit down to a fajita dinner, or enjoy a dinner at an Italian or Chinese, or Greek-American restaurant – when you enjoy some lasagna or even a steaming bowl of oatmeal on a cold January morning praise God and thank Him for the blessings He has bestowed on this great land. And don’t forget to thank Him for the immigrants who have contributed so much to the greatness of this nation and the culture we call our own.