On July 4th, 2010, we celebrate America’s 234th birthday. It was on this day back in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed by our Founding Fathers. The Second Continental Congress had voted and approved part of the Declaration calling for independence twos days early on July 2nd. Thomas Jefferson had written the initial draft that summer in Philadelphia. On June 28th, the Committee of Five, which included Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, presented the draft, where it was debated and became the document we know today. But there was another document which proceeded it, authored by another Founding Father. Without it, we may not be having BBQs, picnics and fireworks today. We might even still all have British passports!
As most home-schooled children know, the War of Independence had begun on April 19, 1775 when British troops fought with American Minutemen in Lexington and Concord. For most of the early stages of the rebellion, the action was primarily a Massachusetts affair. Many delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress still hoped to resolve the situation peacefully.
The tempo towards full independence began to increase with the publication of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine in January, 1776. But in Philadelphia, the Congress was still reluctant. Despite having authorized the formation of an army the previous year, many wanted to give diplomacy another chance. In March, Washington succeeded in his siege of the British forces in Boston. The chances for a real victory improved.
The main proponents of independence, Samuel Adams and John Adams formed an alliance with Virginian, Richard Henry Lee. It would fall on Lee’s shoulders to push the Congress their way. On May 15th, the legislature in Williamsburg passed a resolution which authorized Lee to make independence formal. On June 7th, Lee presented to the Congress in Philadelphia his resolution.
“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. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”
Known today as “Lee’s Resolution”, it was this document that put the matter of independence firmly on the table of Congress. But, several of the colonial delegations had no authorization to vote on independence. The vote was postponed for three weeks so they may receive instructions from their legislatures. The Committee of Five was formed on June 17th to draft the declaration. But it was on July 2nd, 1776, that Lee’s Resolution was voted on and approved by twelve of the colonies, with only New York abstaining. They still had no instructions on how to vote!
So, while the vote to approve and sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4th is what we celebrate today, let us not forget Richard Henry Lee and his document, Lee’s Resolution. Voted and approved of on July 2nd, it has a rightful place among the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as part of the origins of America. In the vernacular of the day, I say unto thee Richard Henry Lee… HUZZAH!