Lesser known truths about Fourth of JulyJuly 4, 2012
A divided nation? How very American of us.
As we commemorate the 236th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, revisiting our history helps remind us how far we've come - and just what still makes up the American character. For one thing, not all the 18th-century colonialists were keen on this whole independence thing: A good half-million were Loyalists to the British crown, and hung on to their royal connections in places like New York City, Long Island, and northern Georgia through the 1780s.
The Fourth of July is also a good time to give credit where credit's due, stamp out a few myths, and find out lesser-known truths that are even juicier than the folklore.
Neglected forefather? No argument -- founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams have name recognition (it helps that two became president). Lost in historical footnotes are the remaining members of the so-called Committee of Five in charge of drafting the Declaration: Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. And, even more neglected, is the man who first proposed the motion for a breakout from Britain.
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was the classical yeoman farmer and a justice of the peace. The Virginia-born aristocrat benefited from an English private school education. At first an "indifferent figure," he later rose to the radical occasion and became an admired orator who, according to Patrick Henry, "reasoned well, and declaimed freely and splendidly" with a "deep and melodious" voice. At the second Continental Congress, he put forth the motion to cut maternal ties with Britain.
"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 connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved... Let this happy day give birth to an American republic." ("Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence," 1856, via Colonial Hall)
As it was his proposal, Lee would have been chair of the Committee of Five and its likely scribe, but his wife's illness called him away. His sub: Jefferson.
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Posted by Ken at 1:43 AM