Declaration of Independence had winding path into history

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's a day that should be remembered in American history, John Adams noted in 1776, with fireworks and celebrations.

The day? July 2, according to the man who would become the second president of the new United States of America.

While it was dated July 4, 1776, nothing actually happened that day, according to popular historian David McCullough.

John Hancock was famously first to sign the document, leaving little room for the other 55 delegates who eventually signed on, but he didn't touch pen to the famous paper until Aug. 2.

Hancock could be forgiven for his boldness -- he was, after all, President of the Congress -- and would probably have been first to hang had the American Revolution been unsuccessful.

The others signed by state delegation, beginning in the upper right in one column, and then proceeding in five other columns, arranged from the northernmost state -- New Hampshire -- to the southernmost -- Georgia.

Adams was one of two future presidents who signed the document; Thomas Jefferson, the third president, and Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the declaration (July 4, 1826).

Edward Rutledge, 26, of South Carolina was the youngest to sign; Benjamin Franklin, 70, was the oldest.

Robert Livingston should have been able to sign the document, but he was recalled by New York before he could do so. That was especially unfortunate, because he was one of the Committee of Five, with Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and Roger Sherman, who drafted the declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, wrote most of the document.

Thomas McKean of Delaware was the last person to sign, but when Congress authorized the printing of an official copy in January 1777, McKean's name was not included because he signed after that date, or the printer made a mistake by omitting his signature.

The document wasn't always in Washington, of course -- the capital named after the first president wasn't founded until 1791 -- but was most likely filed in Philadelphia after it was signed Aug. 2.

On Dec. 12, threatened by the British, Congress adjourned and reconvened eight days later in Baltimore, where the declaration stayed until it was returned to Philadelphia in March 1777. Later, it traveled with the Continental Congress throughout the Northeast until landing in Washington DC in 1800.

When the British threatened again in 1814, it was hidden in an unused gristmill in Virginia. When the British burned the White House on Aug. 24, it was moved to Leesburg, Virginia, until September, when it returned to the nation's capital where it has been ever since, with the exception of being sent to Fort Knox during World War II.

Some of us will have to work on July 4, including those charged with keeping us safe over the holiday. Others of us will be fortunate enough to have a day off to spend with family and friends.

All of us should take time to think about, and express gratitude for those who put their names, and lives, on the line 237 years ago.

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  • the declaration of independence was a great thing until politicians started abusing it for their own benifits

    -- Posted by palisadist1 on Mon, Jul 8, 2013, at 7:01 AM
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