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said, “We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together.” — “Yes,” replied Franklin, “ we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.” 1 That flash of wit reveals the situation, - a group of men, mature in years and in experience, signing away their lives, if need be, for their liberty, yet with a perfect consciousness of the meaning of the act, and, in this moment of solemnity and of peril, displaying a calm and cheerful confidence in their cause. It was one thing for an eager, impatient populace outside the Hall of Independence to demand the Declaration, and to greet its passage with huzzas, with bonfires, and illuminations; and it was another thing for those fifty-six delegates of the Colonies within the hall to issue that Declaration upon the pledge of their honor, their fortunes, and their lives. It was one thing for the mob in various cities, as the news of the Declaration reached them, to burn royal governors in effigy, and throw down the statues of the king 3 and his ministers; and it was another thing for the framers of the Declaration to build a pedestal, — that might be their own mausoleum, — upon which Liberty and Union should stand so firmly, that they could never be thrown down.
These were no fiery revolutionists, intent upon a work of destruction; no enthusiastic doctrinaires, thinking to build of the smoke and ashes of society a new political order for mankind. They loved England, — some of them as the land of their birth;4 most of them as the land of their fathers; all of them as the then foremost land of freedom and culture, whose empire they would gladly share, if this should preserve liberty to the subject equally with loyalty to the crown. They were averse to war; for
1 Bigelow's Life of Franklin, ii. 360. This could hardly have been at the signing, which was simply a matter of form, some time after the treasonable act itself.
2 Every one has heard of the saying of Hancock, as he signed the Declaration in his large, bold hand, “John Bull can read that without spectacles;" and of Charles Carroll, who, when it was suggested that he might escape because there were others of his name, added, “of Carrollton,” saying, “Now they'll know where to find me.”
3 Washington was in New York when the statue of George III. in the Bowling Green was demolished. He condemned such violent proceedings in a general order
es and trusts that every otiicer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the sacred rights and liberties of his country.”
4 Eight of the signers were born in Great Britain.
they had had experience of its cost and waste and losses in the defence of their own frontiers. They were averse to a change of government; being satisfied with their local administration, if its freedom could be preserved in harmony with the national Parliament. They were men of experience in affairs, accustomed to act with reason and deliberation, and honored with the confidence of their fellow-citizens in an age when office was yet an honor, and politics not yet a trade. The average age of the signers of the Declaration was somewhat over forty: only two of them were under thirty, one-half of them were forty-five and upwards, seventeen were over fifty, and seven over sixty years. The fervor of youth was controlled by the prudence and firmness of middle life, and guided by the wisdom and dignity of age. Of the whole number of fifty-six, thirty-nine had received a liberal education : of these, twenty-four were in the profession of the law, four were doctors of medicine, one was president of a college. In addition to the eight who were born in the old country were twelve who had visited England and the continent of Europe; and, of these, seven had pursued their studies at Eton, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and the Inner Temple. One of the signers was a nephew of the Dean of St. Paul's; 2 another, the grandson of the Bishop of Worcester; 3 a third had been honored with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. Not a few of them — John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott - have left memorials in science, law, finance, statesmanship, diplomacy, of which any nation might be proud ; and their collective state papers commanded the admiration of their age. These, then, were not a body to be hurried by impulse into rash innovations. Nor were they. The British Government forced war upon the Colonies, and the war forced independence.
When Franklin retired from his post at London as agent of the Colonies, in March, 1775, the utmost that was thought of was resistance, and resistance as a means
1 John Witherspoon of Princeton. 2 Francis Lewis of New York. 3 Francis Hopkinson of Philadelphia. 4 Richard Stockton of New Jersey. 5 Pitt and Burke were warm in their praise.
toward reconciliation. Separation was but a dream or a dread. When Franklin reached home, he was met with the news of Lexington; and, the day after his arrival, he was chosen a member of the Continental Congress. Then followed Bunker Hill, and the threats of British officers to lay waste the country by foreign mercenaries. At this stage, the American philosopher wrote to a former friend in London,' —
MR. STRAHAN, – You are a member of Parliament, and one of that majority who has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns, and murder our people. Look upon your hands! they are stained with the blood of your relations. You and I were long friends : you are now my enemy, and I am
The tone of this letter shows that public spirit in the Colonies had already grown determined and defiant. A letter to Josiah Quincy from Franklin, in the following April (1776), marks the progress of the spirit of independence: “You ask, When is the Continental Congress by general consent to be formed into a supreme legislature, alliances defensive and offensive formed, our ports opened, and a formidable naval force established at the public charge ? I can only answer, at present, that nothing seems wanting but that general consent.' The novelty of the thing deters some; the doubt of success, others; the vain hope of reconciliation, many. But our enemies take continually every proper measure to remove these obstacles; and their endeavors are attended with success, since every day furnishes us with new causes of increasing enmity, and new reasons for wishing an eternal separation; so that there is a rapid increase of the formerly small party who were for an independent government.” 2
Two months later, this party of independence had grown to embrace almost the entire Congress, and the great body of the people of all the Colonies. But the patriots who were charged with the responsibility of affairs felt their way with the caution of men, who, knowing the calamities of war and the risks of revolution, realized their personal accountability to their country, to the world, to history, and to God. On the seventh day of June (1776), a resolution was laid before Congress in these words : —
1 Bigelow's Life of Franklin, ii. 343. 2 Ibid., ii. 357.
3 The Revolution was born of the heroic spirit of America, and represented the life of her people. Mr. Josiah Quincy once narrated to me how in his boyhood be used to go to read to John Adams, then toward liis ninetieth vear. The delight of the old patriot was to listen to Cicero de Senectute; and he would take up in advance the glowing periods, saying, “O præclarum diem, quum in illud divinum animorum concilium cætumque
" Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
After three days' discussion, a committee was appointed to draught a declaration to the effect of the resolution, and the whole subject was postponed to the first day of July: on that day the Declaration of Independence was taken up by the House in committee of the whole, and, after three days of spirited and thorough discussion, was adopted, and authenticated by the signatures of the president and secretary of the Congress. Hence the 4th of July is the proper anniversary of the Declaration. But Con
proficiscar, quumque ex hac turba et colluvione discedam! Proficiscar enim non ad eos solum viros, de quibus ante dixi, verum etiam ad Catonem meum, quo nemo vir melior natus est, nemo pietate præstantior; cuius a me corpus crematum est - quod contra decuit, ab illo meum- animus vero non me deserens, sed respectans, in ea profecto loca discessit, quo mihi ipsi cernebat esse veniendum.”
Grand old hero! thus joining the patriotic fellowships of earth to the company of the spirits of the just. One day young Quincy said to him, “It is disputed whether you, Mr. Adams, or Mr. Jefferson, or Franklin, started the idea of independence: pray tell me how it was.” –“Neither Jefferson nor Franklin nor I can claim that honor: independence sprang from the hearts of the people. When I was a student of law, I taught school at Worcester, and boarded round in the families of the farmers; and, as I heard them talk, I got such ideas of the state, of liberty, and of patriotism, as satisfied me we must come to this at last.”
1 On the 2d of July, Congress adopted the resolution of June 7, “ Chat these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” This act of separation filled John Adams with such transport, that he wrote, “ The second day of July, 1776, will be the most inemorable epoch in the history of America, to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.". But the issuing of the Declaration two days later, which announced to the world the independence of the States, was seized upon as the fact to be commemorated. (For details as to dates, see Jefferson's Autobiography, and the Letters of John Adams to Mrs. Adams.) The alleged declaration of independence at Mecklenburg, N.C., May 26, 1775, is not sufficiently
gress, sensible of the magnitude of this act, and desiring to proceed with solemnity and deliberation, caused the Declaration to be engrossed on parchment; and, on the second day of August, this copy was signed by each and every member of the Congress. Then “thirteen clocks were made to strike together, - a perfection of mechanism which no artist had ever before effected.” 1
But, while Congress was thus deliberate in the act and the form of the Declaration of Independence, many of the leaders were enthusiastic for the separation from Great Britain, and sanguine of success. Witherspoon described the public spirit as not only ripe for independence, but rotting for want of it. There was in everybody's mouth this apothegm from Paine's trenchant tract styled 6 Common Sense: ” “ England is too ignorant of America to govern it wisely, too jealous of America to govern it justly, and too distant from America to govern it at all.” Rising to the fervor of a prophet, John Adams said, “ Live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration. ... It is an event to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” Fifty years after, this untiring patriot, who had served his country as minister plenipotentiary to France, England, and other countries of Europe; who for eight years was Vice-President under Washington, and four years was President after Washington, — John Adams, then nearing his ninety-first birthday, on the night of the 3d of July lay sinking into the sleep of death. The morrow was the jubilee of independence; and at daybreak he was roused from his lethargy by the ringing of bells and the booming of cannon. With a bewildered look, he asked the occasion of this noise of cannon and bells; and, being reminded that it was “Independence Day,” he kindled with the memories of half a century, cried “Inde
authenticated to take its place in history; and, in any case, it is clear, from the correspondence between Jefferson and Adams upon the subject, that neither of them had any knowledge of the resolutions said to have been passed at Charlotte.
1 John Adams: Works, x. 283.