With July 4th right around the corner, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto urges residents to remember and reflect on this importance of the occasion.
“Since I was youngster, I have always enjoyed history and like collecting little known historic facts,” the Supervisor said. “One of them is that the actual birthday of our nation is not July 4th, but July 2nd. It was on that date, two hundred and thirty-five years ago, that the members of the Continental Congress adopted a resolution which stated that the colonies ‘….are, and of right, ought to be, free and independent states.’ In a letter to his wife, John Adams wrote that July 2nd would be “…solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations…” Across our country, we do just that, but on July 4th, not on July 2nd. The reason is because after passing a resolution of independence, the Continental Congress adopted the more formal and eloquent Declaration of Independence on July 4th.
“The important thing is not the date on which we celebrate our independence, but that we remember what we are celebrating,” the Supervisor emphasized. “To help put it in prospective, let's look back at the days just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.Colonial Philadelphia was experiencing an exceptionally hot and humid summer. With the dress code of the time, our founding fathers wore long-sleeve, high-neck shirts; vests; jackets; below-the-knee-pants; and silk stockings...not exactly comfortable clothing for warm weather. The windows of the State House, later renamed Independence Hall, were open to let in what little breeze there was. Having no screens, they also allowed in a bumper crop of horse flies that had incubated in the stable next door. Thomas Jefferson jokingly credited the flies with hastening consideration of the Declaration telling a friend that members of Congress had to approve the Declaration quickly and leave the room to escape the annoying pests flying around their legs.
“The members of the Continental Congress were, the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘the cream of their colonies’ and came from many walks of life,” Supervisor Venditto continued. “Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin, the oldest member of Congress, was a printer, author and scientist, who suffered from the gout and frequently fell asleep in public. John Adams, the firebrand for independence from Massachusetts, was an attorney and author, who described himself as ‘obnoxious and disliked.’ John Hancock of Massachusetts, a merchant who was elected President of Congress, was one of several members of Congress wanted by the British for treason. John Witherspoon of New Jersey was a clergyman, who served as Congressional chaplain. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, a lawyer, accomplished violinist and author of the Declaration of Independence, gave the daily Congressional weather report. Connecticut native Dr. Lyman Hall represented Georgia in Congress and had been a minister before becoming a physician.Roger Sherman of Connecticut had been a shoemaker before becoming a merchant and surveyor. Caesar Rodney, a Delaware Judge, suffering from a malignancy on his face, had gone home, but returned to break the deadlock in the Delaware delegation on the vote for independence. Rhode Island's Stephen Hopkins was a judge and educator who always wore his broad-brimmed Quaker's hat in the chamber. Three of the four delegates from New York...William Floyd, a soldier, Francis Lewis, a merchant, and Philip Livingston, also a merchant, had ties to Long Island; Floyd and Lewis resided there and the Livingston family had a summer house. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, some would go on to be delegates to the Federal Convention to write up a plan of government for the new nation, which would be called the Constitution of the United States of America. Some would become soldiers in the Continental Army. Some would be held prisoner by the British, and some would even have their families taken prisoner. Some would lose their entire fortunes in the war. Some would go on to become governors and senators. Several would later hold the office of Vice President of the United States, while two would ascend to the highest office in the land.
“Independence was a topic Congress had been sidestepping. John Adams had, on twenty-three separate occasions, introduced the subject of independence to the members of Congress. Each time, it had failed to even be considered for debate. It was not until Richard Henry Lee of Virginia secured a motion for independence from the Virginia House of Burgesses to be introduced in Congress that the subject was finally approved for discussion.”
The Supervisor went on to day that five members of Congress...John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman...were appointed to a committee to prepare the Declaration. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration would “place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.” With that kind of eloquence, it is no wonder Jefferson was selected to write the Declaration. And write, he did, a document that still shines as bright today as it did when it was written two hundred and thirty-five years ago.
“Once it was introduced to Congress, the Declaration was debated, sometimes hotly, for three days.It underwent eight-six separate changes and withstood countless others. More than 400 words were deleted, most notably a passage calling for the abolition of slavery. This was eliminated to placate the southern colonies. Since Congress had already decided that any vote on the Declaration must be unanimous, the removal of that passage was the only way the Declaration would get the required votes.
“The Declaration of Independence was passed on the evening of July 4th, 1776. It was a solemn moment, for each man in Congress realized that he had set this country on a path that, regardless of the outcome, would forever change the course of history. So, on July 4th, we celebrate the courage of the men who, for the first time in history, openly declared a rebellion again their Mother Country. Men, who by signing the Declaration of Independence, put their fortunes, not to mention, their lives, on the line because they chose freedom over oppression. We celebrate those men and women who agreed that freedom…freedom to worship as we please, to live where we please, to vote for our leaders and have a say in how our government will be run, to choose our profession or trade, to move freely throughout our great country, to raise our families in peace and prosperity… is worth fighting, and dying, for.And we celebrate the men and women serving in our Armed Forces today who are putting their lives on the line to preserve our freedoms against those who are seeking to destroy them. Let us count our blessings, cherish our freedom and never take them for granted.”
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