The year is 1776, representatives from all over the 13 Colonies have joined together in the hot, humid, Pennsylvania State House to discuss actions that they should collectively take against their “mother country” Great Britain. For almost a decade now, starting at the end of the “French and Indian” war, Parliament has been trying to force the American Colonies to pay taxes without Republican representation in Parliament. They believe this to be against their Constitutional Rights as Freeborn Englishmen.
Background of the Revolution
The English Civil War
You see the Founding Fathers were well aware of their own forefather’s war against tyrannical leaders some 100 years beforehand. The English Civil War is not brought up much in context to the founding fathers, however, it played a major role in how they seen themselves. They believed themselves the equals of Scotland and Ireland within the kingdom, not some collection of provinces designed to enslave people for the benefit of those in the Mother Country. After all, the colonies were simultaneously being developed as the English Civil War, and the Glorious Revolution were unfolding (1642 – 1689). When Parliament won this battle over power, they wanted to keep the kingdom in order, so they decided to keep the Royal Family as a part of the government, albeit in a less role. When they made this decision, it was widely accepted as a major change in the Constitution of Great Britain. A major change that basically said, power to tax resides with the people, or in other words with Parliaments elected representatives. This was all solidified in the English Declaration of Rights, a declaration read aloud at the coronation of William of Orange and his wife Mary’s taking of the English Crown in 1689. This not only allowed William and Mary’s ascension to King and Queen, it also formed the “English Bill of Rights,” which took effect almost immediately in an official capacity.
The contemporary impact of the “English Civil War” and the “Glorious Revolution” on the Colonies is often over-looked, under-taught, but it is well-documented. In 1685, King James II—a catholic at heart running a Protestant empire—installed a new, unpopular government known as the “Dominion of New England.” This revoked many of the royal charters given by past kings and attempted to wipe out many established elected democratic-republican institutions that had been established since the colonies birth. James did this, for seemingly no other reason but for want of more centralized fundamental power in the colonies. Three years later in 1688, religious tensions between Parliament and the King resulted in a revolution. In a very rare union, Parliamentary Whigs (rebels) and Tories (loyalist) reached out to Protestant Prince and husband of James II’s daughter, William of Orange—then a widely popular Protestant Monarch in Holland—to overthrow James II. In America the “Dominion of New England” was immediately dismantled, many of its officials falling victim to American mobs and riot as people spread out into the streets overjoyed.
Across the pond, as William of Orange and his Royal English wife Mary, took the English throne together, a celebrated document known as the “Declaration of Rights” was read aloud at their coronation. This declaration is precisely why the founding fathers felt they had the right to taxation only with representation. It started a belief that a man’s “liberty” or “freedom” was defined as their right to participate in their government and anyone who was impeding on that right was an enemy of liberty itself. To participate meant to express your opinion, and to do that, one must be able to speak out against authority and hold power over their representatives through their vote. The English Civil War ushered in a tradition of resistance to fundamental centralized government, while simultaneously confirming Americans belief that their democratic-republican institutions were the best means of governing. William and Mary were quickly looked upon by the people with much due respect having been willing to concede so much power to the people. To this day, prestige is found in places named after them, while many other places named for royalty, were re-established under new names, a lot of times after revolutionary patriots.
Parliament—like Congress—is a bicameral legislative body. Instead of the Senate and the House of Representatives, however, Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This form of government allowed the people to elect representatives to the House of Commons. Who they felt held the most power of all the branches of their government, the power of the purse. The people’s representatives had the exclusive right to lay taxes. Since the colonies did not elect people to Parliament but rather elected their own representatives in their own assemblies, they did not think Parliament had a right to tax them beyond regulating trade. Thomas Jefferson wrote before independence, “Let no act be passed by any one legislature which may infringe on the rights and liberties of another.”
The rights and liberties he cited had been fought for and won by their forefathers during the English Revolution and he felt them in serious peril under the Intolerable Acts:
“Since the establishment, however, of the British constitution, at the glorious revolution, on its free and antient principles, neither his majesty, nor his ancestors, have exercised such a power of dissolution in the island of Great Britain; and when his majesty was petitioned, by the united voice of his people there, to dissolve the present parliament, who had become obnoxious to them, his ministers were heard to declare, in open parliament, that his majesty possessed no such power by the constitution. But how different their language and his practice here!”
The Colonies Revolt
In 1765, two years after the the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) a war fought in America by some of the founding fathers against… You guessed it… The French and their Native American Allies. Parliament was in deep debt, and they claimed it was from defending the colonies in this war. Their solution to this debt started with the Sugar Act of 1764. If someone asked me, “When did the American Revolution begin?” Personally, I would point them to the passing of the Sugar Act. Parliament, specifically new Prime Minister George Grenville, under a relatively newly anointed and eager (1760) King George III; felt the solution to the war debt was taxes on the American Colonies. They ignored the fact that this was unconstitutional according to the “Declaration of Rights” established after the Glorious Revolution. The colonies, understandably, felt this to be an egregious violation against their rights as Englishmen. After all each colony had their own written constitutions approved of by the King, not by Parliament. Where did Parliament get the audacity to think they had ANY power over the colonies once-so-ever? The colonies individual constitutions established different–miniature–versions of Parliament, called assemblies, right in the colonies. The Patriots were flabbergasted at the idea that they should be taxed twice, once by their own assemblies as well as by Parliament.
The colonies had already accepted being taxed twice under the Navigational Acts for the purpose of regulating trade, but now they wanted, yet, even more? And this not for regulation? But to simply fondle the ego of those in Parliament? To simply submit to their power trip? Had the colonies not already acknowledged England’s superiority? They accepted bans on manufacturing that greatly benefited Great Britain’s producers? They allowed the crown to send agents out into the woods and reserve the best American timber for the King. Had this not been enough? The colonists were furious, they began using peaceful and violent protest to resist these new taxes. Eventually, they stopped buying British goods altogether in an official embargo. This created enough pressure from merchants that the Sugar Act was finally repealed. However, Parliament did this begrudgingly as they continued to try and find tricky—new—ways to tax the Americans; ways that the Americans felt went against their English Constitutional rights. They had no a place at the table, and signs were they were never going to get a place at the table. A series of acts were passed by Parliament known as the Townshend Acts, these acts and other acts responsible for escalating the tension between England and America become known as the Intolerable Acts. “No Taxation Without Representation!” become the Patriots rallying cry.
In 1770, the death of a young boy named Christopher Seider, at the end of a musket being held by Ebenezer Richardson, one of the many red coats sent to occupy New England, outraged Bostonian’s. The funeral procession gained followers as it passed through town and as you can imagine the entire city of Boston mourned the 11-year-old boys seemingly unnecessary death. On March 1st, 1770 a Boston Newspaper reported the event:
“It began about three o’clock from Liberty Tree, (the dwelling-house of the parents of the deceased being but a little distance from thence), the boys from several schools, supposed to be between four and five hundred, preceded the corpse in couples.
After the sorrowful relatives and particular friends of the youth, followed many of the principal gentlemen and a great number of other respectable inhabitants of this town, by computation exceeding thirteen hundred: about thirty chariots, chaises, etc., closed the procession. Throughout the whole there appeared the greater solemnity and good order, and by as numerous a train as was ever known here.”
John Adams also reported the event in his diary:
“When I came into Town, I saw a vast Collection of People, near Liberty Tree — enquired and found the funeral of the Child, lately kill’d by [Ebenezer] Richardson was to be attended. Went into Mr. Rowes, and warmed me, and then went out with him to the Funeral, a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.
This Shewes, there are many more Lives to spend if wanted in the Service of their Country.
It Shews, too that the Faction [i.e., the royal appointees that Adams and his fellow Whigs thought were angling for power] is not yet expiring — that the Ardor of the People is not to be quelled by the Slaughter of one Child and the Wounding of another.”
Just eleven days following Seider’s death, a group of Boston citizens began heckling a British soldier guarding the local customs house, which was responsible for collecting the unpopular taxes being levied on the colony. Very quickly, more soldiers were dispatched to help control the mob. This made the citizens even more angry, they began cursing at the guards, swinging clubs, throwing stones and snowballs at the red coats. The soldiers become agitated and fired into the mob. The Boston Massacre had unfolded and was followed by a fierce media campaign—led by Paul Revere—to rally the colonies.
The Tea Tax of 1773 inspired more rebellion. The Sons of Liberty famously dress up as Indians and dump what amounts today as millions of dollars of tea into the Boston Harbor. Needless to say, neither side was backing down and the conflict was escalating. The anger of both sides inevitably leads to the colonists organizing local militia’s in case they needed to fight the redcoats that had been stationed and quartered nearby and in their hometowns. King George suspended their government and installed a Military Governor for his most insubordinate child. This was too much for Massachusetts, who weren’t waiting around for the rest of the colonies to join them. In October of 1774, during the First Continental Congress, Massachusetts decided it was time to declare themselves free of British rule.
In the spring of 1775, the militias fought the first military conflict against the British Soldiers. The Battles at Lexington and Concord predated the colonies official independence. It seemed to some at the time, after these battles, they had reached a point of no return. Meanwhile the First Continental Congress was still underway, though at the time, none of the other colonies were willing to go as far as Massachusetts. Many leaders still held out hope for reconciliation. The drama of the recent battles, however, led many others to call for a reconvening at a Second Continental Congress.
The Summer of War: Second Continental Congress
Benjamin Franklin’s return to America in early May of 1775, coincided with the meeting of the Second Continental Congress. The return of America’s most famous man created a ton of buzz. Franklin had been gone nearly 20 years. Despite his outstanding international reputation, he had recently been shred apart, completely and utterly embarrassed in a widely publicized meeting with Parliament as an appointed agent for Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Franklin had leaked the personal letters of high ranking British officials in Massachusetts. He did this because he thought, once in the public, it would change the minds of reasonable men in Parliament. He was wrong, this violation of a mans privacy seemed to outweigh the context of the letters, at least to those in Parliament. They painted him as a disgusting, sneaky villain, dedicated to division. They ignored the fact that while Franklin was living in London he had been preaching moderation and reconciliation for years. Franklin was at the lowest point in his life, compromise with England? It was dead. He had the Hutchinson letters sent across the Atlantic to have them printed because he wanted his people to know just how tyrannical and hostile their government had become against them. Up and down the continent, broadsides filled the streets telling of his return home to join the American Revolution:
“Yesterday evening Dr. Franklin arrived here from London in six weeks, which he left the 20th of March, which has given great joy to this town. He says we have no favours to expect from the Ministry: nothing but submission will satisfy them. They expect little or no opposition will be made to their troops… Dr. Franklin is highly pleased to find us arming and preparing for the worst events. He thinks nothing else can save us from the most abject slavery and destruction; at the same time encourages us to believe a spirited opposition will be the means of our salvation.”
When members of the Second Congress settled in and begun conversations between one another, it was thought by many, their only cause was to organize their militias for future battles while trying to reconcile with Great Britain. Many delegates showed up to the meeting with no intention of declaring independence. Many seen this meeting of the minds, as necessary only to take a hold of the war effort not to declare war itself. Much of the months of May and June were spent finding ways to make the militias stronger. They confiscated arsenals, let royal officials know their services were no longer needed, they sent orders to take back Boston which had been completely taken over by redcoats. On June 14th, they finally voted to merge the militias surrounding Boston into the start of an army. John Adams quickly stood and appointed Congressman George Washington as the Commanding General. A vote was taken and thus the Continental Army was born. Adams spent the summer arguing for a permanent severance from Britain. Despite Adams calls for separation, in July of 1775, they extended the “Olive Branch Petition” to the King, which was one last final attempt at finding harmony between the two sides. The Congress continued on through the summer. It assumed the position of a national government and sent ministers to France to ask for help. They coordinated the war effort into the fall and winter. As battles began to slow down for the winter some delegates went home.
Spring brings the Spirit of 1776: the Summer of Independence!
In January of 1776, it became apparent to even the most delusional delegates that King George would not be siding with the colonies in their fight against Parliament. The Olive Branch Petition had failed. Just as Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was published and making rounds in circulation, delegates begun to return to Philadelphia in the late Spring early Summer. A frenzy of patriotism was passing through the colonies. No progress had been made in getting France to enter the fight. It seemed King Louis XVI was aware of the paradox he would enter by helping subjects fight a war against their Crown, even if it was his arch nemesis who suffered most. John Adams did not care, he entered the convention with an unwavering insistence on the colonies declaring independence unitedly. Richard Henry Lee called for each colony to adopt new independent governments individually, in addition to declaring themselves a confederation against the British empire. John Adams supported this measure and help Lee draft the preamble to the resolution. As a delegate sent from the colony most affected by the conflict, and subsequently already declared independent; Adams advocated that a united Declaration of Independence would be helpful as it would send the message to those around the world–mainly France–that they intended fully to start a new nation themselves. By this time, the ongoing battles between the Continental Army and the British regulars, made for overwhelming support by delegates for a declaration. This prompted the Congress to a lot 3 weeks, starting on June 11th for drafting the grand Declaration. They appointed a powerhouse committee of the five most brilliant and respected minds to write the document:
- John Adams was famous for his role as an attorney in the Boston Massacre, also a famed writer of Patriot pamphlets, and he was considered the brightest and fairest legal mind in all the colonies
- Thomas Jefferson was also famed for his authorship of a pamphlet called, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America”
- Benjamin Franklin was the most famous of all the founding fathers, known for his experiments on electricity and his work as a Diplomatic Colonial Agent to the British Government, also a well-known writer and publisher
- Roger Sherman was a well-known legal mind and represented Connecticut a colony known for opposing separation and carrying loyalist citizens
- Robert Livingston was respected as the greatest legal mind in the highly influential colony of New York
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson: Writing of the Declaration of Independence and a “Complicated” Relationship
After the five went through the general outline of what the document would consists of, Jefferson appointed the outspoken Adams to write the document. Adams would have none of it. Choosing to give the honor to the young–he was only 33 at the time–Thomas Jefferson. Adams later recalled the famous conversation:
Adams: ‘Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I said, ‘I will not,’
Jefferson: ‘You should do it.’
Adams: ‘Oh! no.’
Jefferson: ‘Why will you not?
Adams: ‘You ought to do it. I will not’
Adams: ‘Reasons enough.’
Jefferson: ‘What can be your reasons?’
Adams: ‘Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.’
Jefferson: ‘Well, if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.’
Adams: ‘Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.’
Jefferson went on to write the Declaration of Independence and the committee–mainly Ben Franklin–made some minor changes. The document was presented to congress, who went through it and made several major changes to the document. This caused Jefferson a great deal of agony. Seated next to Ben Franklin the doctor offered him some wisdom:
“I have made it a rule whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body.”
Jefferson was so eloquent in his writing, the foundation he laid for the document remained so transparent when it was finished, he was still given credit for writing the document, despite it being a collective effort of the Congress as a whole. On July 4th, 1776 the document was signed by all the necessary delegates. The entire process elated John Adams. No one had labored more, been more passionate in their advocacy for independence or worked longer hours to bring about this great Declaration of Independence. Though, he incorrectly thought the day it was voted on—which was July 2nd—would be the day of celebration, not the day it was completed and signed, he correctly and accurately made a prediction of our future surrounding the event. This letter to Abigail from John, I believe, is responsible for setting the tone of the Independence holiday—and what it was to mean to all Americans—for the centuries to come:
“The Second (Fourth) Day of July 1776” will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The Election of 1800
Jefferson and Adams had a lot of ups and downs in following decades. Both went on to participate in the Revolution by attempting—at the same time as Benjamin Franklin—to convince the French King to send his army and assist the American cause. Their time in France made them both grow closer together, as truly great friends. Even Abigail Adams, and their son John Quincy Adams had grew tremendous fondness for Jefferson’s advice and company. The French mission was eventually a success and in 1783, after 8 long years of war, America gained its Independence from Great Britain. In 1789, after a new Constitution had been implemented, Adams and Jefferson become members of the nation’s first Presidential Administration. Adams as Vice President, Jefferson as Secretary of State. They experienced their most extreme fallout in the nation’s first real election. In 1800, Adams was running for a second term as President. Adams considered himself bipartisan and above parties, but like Washington, his views were consistent with the Federalist party and in opposition to the Democratic-Republicans, Adams believed the national government needed to grow in its power to keep the union together. Jefferson’s second experience in France during the French Revolution—after the American Revolution—had convinced him that government needed to have as little power as possible. Adams was appalled at Jefferson’s views, and considered them almost treasonous and anarchic. Jefferson felt similar towards Adams thinking he had grew so fond of power he had become tyrannical. There was actually some truth in both of their suspicions of one another. They allowed these passions to spill into the newspapers.
Jefferson accused Adams of being a:
“hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Adams responded calling Jefferson:
“a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
Jefferson won the election despite Aaron Burr splitting the vote. Jefferson spent two terms as President, most notably expanding our great nation with the Louisiana Purchase.
50 Years of Independence and the Greatest Fourth of July Story Ever Told
In 1808, Jefferson chose—like Washington—to step away from power. John Adams had since then retired to his farm in Massachusetts raising his children out of the public light. In 1812 Benjamin Rush, a mutual friend and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence encouraged the two to rekindle the great friendship they once had before their political differences got in the way. John Adams obliged, and as a New Year’s Day gift, decided to send Jefferson a brief note, “two pieces of homespun,” and two books of lectures and rhetoric by John Quincy Adams, who had joined Jefferson’s party, probably against the advice of his father. John Quincy was much like a nephew to Jefferson when the two older men were good pals back in the 1770’s and early 80’s. Jefferson responded to the elder Adams immediately, and the two men resumed their friendship by corresponding back and forth through letters. They discussed the weather, agriculture, and of course good government. The two of them both now well out of the public light, watched their protege John Quincy Adams rise in political status using Jefferson’s political philosophy and his fathers great reputation and name as an original Patriot. Some 158 letters were sent back and forth between the two former Presidents.
In 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was approaching fast. As the two old men were sending letters to one another, the nation they had created together was amid an new revolution, an Industrial Revolution. Their health allowed them both to outlast their fellow founding fathers, including Benjamin Rush, the man responsible for the harmony they had found between each other. Advances in technology far surpassed anything their peers could have ever imagined, and they were both lucky enough to witness these once unimaginable advances in progress. A pioneer spirit expanded the United States well-over the Appalachian Mountains and onto the great plains. The first steam locomotive was designed in 1814. The printing press had been improved tremendously by Frederick Koenig, and the cotton gin came to market in a way that made slavery even more important to the United States of America. The abolition movement resented this and they had began organizing in this time. In 1824—for the first time in history—the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams as the President under the provisions of the 12th Amendment. A fury of nationalism had taken the nation by storm with the candidacy of a man “of the people” named Andrew Jackson. Both the old men must have felt an immense sense of pride in the nation they created together.
As America’s Jubilee grew closer—the celebration of its 50th Birthday—both the aged men must have been proud to see John Quincy Adams as its President. They could find comfort knowing this President would understand the gravity of the nations achievement, the extraordinary sacrifices given to bring it about, and appreciate the monumental occasion for what it truly meant. They could find solace knowing something special would be made of event. Celebrations, parades, military marches, and speeches to be given were being prepared and finalized by local people across the nation. On July 3rd, 1826 while the nation prepared to celebrate, near Quincy, Massachusetts, and Charlottesville, Virginia, the two demigods, the nation’s 2nd and 3rd President were passing into their final hours. It had been 36 years since Benjamin Franklin passed away, and 27 years since George Washington himself had passed. The nation had fought wars against Great Britain twice, and the American experiment had finally secured a foundation on which to build upon; proving the United States was in fact a stable nation, a real nation, a nation built on the idea of liberty. An idea that seemed ridiculous to many just 50 years beforehand, was now a reality.
From his bed Jefferson said, “A few hours more, doctor, and it will all be over.” He gave his daughter instructions to look, “in a certain drawer, in an old pocket book” once he had passed. That night Jefferson slowly took leave of his accomplished life, at one point early in the morning he spoke up, “This is the fourth of July.” Jefferson would hold on to life until noon July 4th, 1826.
Near Quincy, Massachusetts the great fun had started. A speech was given by local leader Josiah Quincy in which he honored their other local hero John Adams:
“He, indeed, hears not our public song or voice, of praise or ascending prayer. But the sounds of a nations joy, rushing from our cities, ringing from our valleys, echoing from our hills, shall break the silence of his ancient ear”
Just a few days prior, Quincy had shared a conversation with the aged John Adams, in which Adams said, “Independence forever!” John was asked if he had anything to add to that? He did not. Adams died just 5 hours after Jefferson. Not knowing of Jefferson’s passing, his last words were reported to have been “Jefferson Survives.” It took the nation weeks to spread the news of the unbelievable coincidence. As they were about their bonfires celebrating as Adams had predicted, their two oldest forefathers had passed away on exactly 50 years from the final signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document in which they—together—held the most influence in creating.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! We encourage your input!
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