The ‘Lit­tle Miracle’ of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence

Westside Eagle-Observer - - OPINION - By Harold Pease, Ph.D

The Se­cond Con­ti­nen­tal Congress, hav­ing been con­vened for six months, had been en­gaged in the wres­tle for or against in­de­pen­dence, the vast ma­jor­ity of del­e­gates be­ing de­cid­edly against such dras­tic ac­tion most of this time. Surely there should be a way of rec­on­cil­ing their dif­fer­ences with Great Bri­tain in­stead.

This was so, even af­ter the bat­tles of Lex­ing­ton, Con­cord and Bunker (Breeds) Hill and the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion of Bos­ton. We were at war. King George III had al­ready re­jected the Colonists’ Dec­la­ra­tion of Rights and Griev­ances, ar­gu­ing the vi­o­la­tion of their rights un­der Bri­tish law, and the paci­fist Olive Branch Pe­ti­tion, which reaf­firmed colo­nial loy­alty to the king and blamed their prob­lems upon Par­lia­ment alone. More­over, he had de­clared the Colonists in open re­bel­lion. A full six months prior to the sign­ing a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence, Par­lia­ment had re­moved the colonies from the pro­tec­tion of the Bri­tish mil­i­tary, ended all Bri­tish trade with them, and au­tho­rized the con­fis­ca­tion of any Amer­i­can ves­sel on the seas. Still, del­e­gates could not bring them­selves to sep­a­rate from their “mother,” the Bri­tish Em­pire.

On July 1, 1776, the Pa­tri­ots fi­nally risked “putting the ques­tion” to a ten­ta­tive count but were numb­ingly shocked by the re­sult. Four colonies — New York, South Carolina, Delaware and Penn­syl­va­nia — did not sup­port declar­ing in­de­pen­dence from Great Bri­tain. The Pa­tri­ots needed to show sol­i­dar­ity. A vote of only nine colonies would show dis­unity.

This is where the bril­liance of John Adams, from Mas­sachusetts, and Richard Henry Lee, from Vir­ginia, came into play. They got Ed­ward Rut­ledge to use his in­flu­ence to per­suade South Carolina, for the sake of unity, to join those sup­port­ing in­de­pen­dence, if Penn­syl­va­nia and Delaware could be per­suaded to do like­wise. Con­vinced that could never hap­pen, Rut­ledge agreed. Next, Adams and Lee worked on Delaware which had three rep­re­sen­ta­tives, one for and another against in­de­pen­dence and a third, Cae­sar Rodney, who was pro dec­la­ra­tion, was re­cu­per­at­ing from health prob­lems at his farm 80 miles away and prob­a­bly would not be able to be there to vote the next day. Ap­par­ently, he had skin cancer and a sore on his face the “size of a large ap­ple.” The Delaware del­e­gate fa­vor­ing in­de­pen­dence sent a mes­sen­ger to Rodney to try to get him to the Con­ven­tion for the vote. This ne­ces­si­tated an 80-mile all night ride by the sick del­e­gate.

Now they needed to change the vote of Penn­syl­va­nia with seven del­e­gates, four of whom were against in­de­pen­dence. Amaz­ingly Adams and Lee con­vinced two of these to be ab­sent for vot­ing the next day. This would place Penn­syl­va­nia in the camp of the Pa­tri­ots three to two. New York, without in­struc­tions to vote for in­de­pen­dence, re­mained neu­tral, re­fus­ing to vote at all. The gam­ble was that in these agree­ments in South Carolina, Penn­syl­va­nia and

This “lit­tle miracle” made Delaware the 10th colony for a dec­la­ra­tion that these colonies were free and in­de­pen­dent states. The two lesser “mir­a­cles” fol­lowed. Penn­syl­va­nia fol­lowed as planned when the two con-del­e­gates did not show to vote as promised, leav­ing a sim­ple ma­jor­ity for in­de­pen­dence, and Rut­ledge kept his word and per­suaded South Carolina to become the twelfth colony for the sake of unity.

Delaware there ex­isted too many ifs, and would ev­ery­one do as promised? They needed a “lit­tle miracle,” per­haps three.

Some­time af­ter lunch the next day, July 2, 1776, Cae­sar Rodney, “caked with mud from head to foot,” hav­ing rid­den through a se­vere thun­der­storm and tor­ren­tial rain “en­tered the assem­bly room, and when his name was called for Delaware he rose with dif­fi­culty but in a clear voice stated: ‘As I be­lieve the voice of my con­stituents and of all sen­si­ble and hon­est men is in fa­vor of In­de­pen­dence and my own judg­ment con­curs with them, I vote for In­de­pen­dence’” (Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence: The Keep­sake Al­bum of its Cre­ation, by Joseph P. Cullen, Amer­i­can His­tory Il­lus­trated p. 34).

This “lit­tle miracle” made Delaware the 10th colony for a dec­la­ra­tion that these colonies were free and in­de­pen­dent states. The two lesser “mir­a­cles” fol­lowed. Penn­syl­va­nia fol­lowed as planned when the two con­del­e­gates did not show to vote as promised, leav­ing a sim­ple ma­jor­ity for in­de­pen­dence, and Rut­ledge kept his word and per­suaded South Carolina to become the twelfth colony for the sake of unity. With New York ab­stain­ing, the Pa­tri­ots could an­nounce to the world that the vote had car­ried without an op­pos­ing vote. All this hap­pened within 26 hours, when the day be­fore, at 10 a. m., only nine colonies sup­ported in­de­pen­dence.

A draft of The Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence had been writ­ten, re­viewed by a com­mit­tee and tabled on June 28 un­til af­ter an af­fir­ma­tive vote for in­de­pen­dence. This fi­nal­iza­tion by the whole house fol­lowed on July 4, 1776, pass­ing 12 to 0, again with New York ab­stain­ing. But could all this be vin­di­cated on the bat­tle­field, as war with Great Bri­tain was cer­tain to fol­low as a re­sult? That seemed just as im­prob­a­ble, per­haps need­ing ad­di­tional “lit­tle mir­a­cles,” or would these men merit only the gal­lows? That is a story for another day.

Harold W. Pease, Ph.D., is a syn­di­cated columnist and an ex­pert on the United States Con­sti­tu­tion. He has ded­i­cated his ca­reer to study­ing the writ­ings of the Found­ing Fathers and ap­ply­ing that knowl­edge to cur­rent events. He taught his­tory and po­lit­i­cal science from this per­spec­tive for more than 30 years at Taft Col­lege. To read more of his weekly ar­ti­cles, please visit www.Lib­er­tyUn­derFire.org.

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