Many kids have heard of the Declaration of Independence, but few know the story behind the people and events that helped forge it. They may know about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, but do they know the roles that Patrick Henry and Thomas Gage played in setting fire to a revolution? This is the story of how the men and women of thirteen British colonies came to declare their independence on July 4, 1776.
Covering major events such as the Boston Massacre and Paul Revere’s midnight ride, The Declaration of Independence brings the rich and exciting history of the Revolutionary War to young readers who want to know more about America’s beginnings.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
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|Age Range:||8 - 10 Years|
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The Declaration of Independence
By Peter Roop, Connie Roop
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Peter and Connie Roop
All rights reserved.
WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS
Thursday, July 4, 1776, was hot enough to melt candles. Inside the Pennsylvania State House it was even hotter. The delegates of the Second Continental Congress were debating their final changes to the Declaration of Independence.
July 4, 1776, would become a milestone in American history.
Tempers flared as ideas were discussed and statements were added or subtracted from the Declaration. New York lawyers wanted one thing put in. Georgia's planters wanted one thing taken out. Pennsylvania landowners wanted something different than the Massachusetts merchants.
This final debate on July 4 actually began on July 2 when Congress officially voted to declare independence. This closing debate centered on what Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had proposed on June 7, 1776: "Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved (freed) from all allegiance to the British Crown."
On July 3, John Adams of Massachusetts, a leader for independence, proudly wrote his wife, Abigail. "Yesterday, the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America." He predicted that "the second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha (time) in the history of America."
Adams expected July 2nd to be celebrated with "pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore."
John Adams had the right idea, but the wrong date to celebrate. We commemorate July 4th because that's the day the Declaration of Independence was actually first signed (and only by two people!)
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, the author of the Declaration of Independence, fidgeted while the debate raged. His friend John Adams vigorously defended the Declaration as Jefferson had drafted it. Thomas Jefferson, however, said nothing. He had already eloquently expressed himself by writing the declaration document. Diligently, Jefferson scratched with his quill pen, making the changes Congress requested.
Finally, the deed was done. The time had come.CHAPTER 2
WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT
Benjamin Harrison of Virginia read the Declaration of Independence out loud. The delegates sat in silence as Harrison announced,
"The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America: When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.... they should declare the causes which impel them to this separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness....
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries....
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
With this declaration, the thirteen separate, unique British colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia became the "thirteen united States of America."
John Adams of Massachusetts wrote, "Thirteen clocks were made to strike as one."
Benjamin Harrison finished reading the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock, President of Congress, dipped his quill pen in ink and signed. The only other person to sign on July 4, 1776, was Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress.
The Declaration was rushed to a printer for copies. Horsemen galloped north and south, taking the Declaration to the new states.
On August 2, 1776, the delegates to Congress gathered to officially sign the Declaration of Independence.
John Hancock dipped his pen into a shining silver inkwell made especially for this occasion. He signed his famous "John Hancock" with a flourish and in letters large enough so that King George III could read it without his glasses.
"Now we must all hang together," John Hancock solemnly said.
"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately," quipped Ben Franklin.
One by one each man signed, pledging his life, liberty, and honor in the effort to create a free and independent nation.
Eventually, fifty-six delegates signed the Declaration of Independence. George Washington and Patrick Henry, two of the most respected patriot leaders, didn't sign. General George Washington was away, already fighting for freedom. Governor Patrick Henry was in Virginia serving his new state.
By signing their names, the delegates became traitors to Britain, their mother country.
What these men (and their families supporting them) were doing had never been done before. If they succeeded, they would begin a new nation. If they failed, Britain would harshly punish the leaders of the revolution.
What was the "course of human events" which led the thirteen colonies to unite and declare their independence? Why would Americans rebel against their British king? What forced the colonists to disobey the laws established by the British Parliament? Could the Americans really win a war of independence against the best army in the world?
You may know about several of the "human events": the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, Lexington and Concord. Yet many more events led the thirteen disunited colonies to become the thirteen United States.
Many of the names you already know: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abigail Adams, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Yet there were thousands of others, including African Americans, Native Americans, French, and British who played dramatic parts in the creation of the United States of America.
This is the story of how those thirteen dependent British colonies came to declare their independence on July 4, 1776.CHAPTER 3
THE STAGE IS SET
The French owned lands in a long arc from eastern Canada south to the mouth of the Mississippi River. They wanted to keep the British pinned against the sea.
Both countries claimed much of the same land.
The unfortunate Native Americans were forced to choose sides. As British colonists moved onto their lands, many tribes fought to keep them out.
The French, eager to stop the British invasion, encouraged the Indians to attack frontier settlements. The French supplied the Indians with guns, gunpowder, and other goods. Many Indians, but not all, sided with the French.
In 1763, after losing the French and Indian War, France was forced to give up her territory in North America. British lands now stretched from the Atlantic in the east to past the Mississippi River in the west.
Since early colonial days most colonists lived close to the Atlantic coast. By the 1760s much of the best land was filled with farms. With the French gone, the fertile lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains could now be settled. There was plenty of cheap land for anyone daring to cross the dangerous mountains, fight the remaining Indians, and carve homes out of the wilderness.
King George III, who had been on the throne for only three years, and Parliament told the eager colonists that they would decide who would get this vast territory, how much it would cost, and what lands the Indians could keep.
King George III proclaimed that a line be drawn through the mountains (not a real line through the woods, but on a map). The colonists must stay east of the line, the Indians west.
To add insult to injury, the King and Parliament agreed that the colonists would have to pay part of the expense of the French and Indian War.
These were fighting words to the colonists. Yes, they were safer now that the French threat was gone. But why should they have to pay for a British war? they complained.
The problem was that the colonists had no one to complain to. The wealthy people of Britain elected representatives to Parliament to watch out for their interests. The colonists, however, didn't have any elected men (or women) to represent them in Parliament. Parliament (with or without the advice of the king) made the laws for the British at home and in the colonies.
The British considered themselves to be parents. The colonists were supposed to be their obedient children. One British leader said, "This is the mother country, they are the children; they must obey."CHAPTER 4
THE STAMP ACT
The colonies, however, had grown up and become more independent. Each colony had its own government with elected representatives making laws for that colony.
Each colony taxed itself for its own expenses. Since the colonists elected representatives who made these taxes, the colonists paid them. They were taxed with representation.
In 1764, Parliament passed the Stamp Act to help pay for the French and Indian War.
The Stamp Act forced the colonists to buy special stamps for almost everything printed on paper. The list included marriage licenses, playing cards, land deeds, college diplomas, and paper for newspapers and books. For some odd reason dice were also on the list.
Absolutely not! the colonists cried. If Parliament could tax paper and cards, it could tax land and children. Maybe even tax "every kiss your daughters received from their sweethearts," wrote one angry colonist.
The colonists objected. They hadn't voted for the Stamp tax, so they wouldn't pay the Stamp tax. The disunited colonies spoke with one voice, "No taxation without representation!"
The frustrated colonists took matters into their own hands. They wouldn't buy anything from Britain.
Sam Adams of Boston said, "What a Blessing to us has the Stamp Act prov'd." He saw the Stamp Act as a sure way to unite the colonies. He was right.
Every colony joined the boycott of British products. John Hancock, a wealthy merchant, told his shipping agent, "In case the Stamp Act is not repealed, my orders are that you will not ... ship me one article."
British manufacturers and merchants suffered. They made millions of pounds (money) each year from selling things to the colonies. When the colonists boycotted their products, they lost money. The merchants and manufacturers let their voices be heard in Parliament.
In the colonies, the time to talk was over. The Sons of Liberty in Boston took the lead. Clerks, doctors, sailors, farmers, merchants, booksellers, bricklayers, silversmiths, ministers, lawyers, and others were the Sons of Liberty.
Andrew Oliver was the main stamp seller in Boston. On August 14, 1765, an Andrew Oliver effigy (a straw dummy) was hung from a large elm tree. A note pinned to its sleeve exclaimed,
"What greater joy did New England see Than a stampman hanging on a tree."
Another note stated, "He who takes this down is an enemy to his country."
The tree became known as the Liberty Tree. Before long Liberty Trees sprouted in every colony.
That night Andrew Oliver (the dummy, not the real person) was carried in a fake funeral and burned. The real Andrew Oliver's house was pelted with rocks and his windows shattered. More damage was threatened if Oliver didn't resign.
Other tax collectors had rocks thrown through their windows. More effigies were dragged through the streets. Stamp paper was hidden or burned.
In Williamsburg, Virginia, dazzling Patrick Henry inspired the members of the House of Burgesses. These men, including George Washington and six future signers of the Declaration of Independence, voted to reject the Stamp Act. A young student named Thomas Jefferson heard Henry speak that day, something he never forgot.
Newspapers (without stamps) shared the news of what Virginia had done. Virginia's concerned governor stated, "The Flame is spread far beyond Williamsburg, and one Colony supports another in their disobedience to superior powers."
Oh, those naughty colonial "children."
Everywhere colonists shouted, "Liberty, property, and no Stamps!"
Everywhere, stamp sellers resigned.
Thomas Hutchinson, the loyal, royal governor of Massachusetts, had his home ransacked during stamp tax protests. He wrote, "They (the colonists) approach very near to independence."
Hutchinson was right, but ten years would pass before independence became a reality.
Ben Franklin was the voice of America in England. He talked with friends and foes about the evils of the Stamp Act. Franklin was called before Parliament.
Ben Franklin was proud to be an Englishman, but that day he introduced himself to Parliament as "Franklin of Philadelphia."
Members of Parliament questioned Franklin about why the colonists were so upset. Franklin answered that the Americans felt that only they could tax themselves.
When asked what Americans had pride in if not being British, Franklin (thinking about the boycott) simply said, "To wear their old clothes over again till they can make new ones."
Instead of making money for Parliament, the Stamp Act cost Parliament dearly.
Finally, on March 28, 1766, Parliament listened to the protests from the British and the Americans. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. Parliament, however, was determined to have the last word.
When the colonists heard the news, they celebrated. Bells rang. Cannons boomed. People danced in the streets. They lit candles in their windows. Fireworks illuminated the skies in celebration of the colonists' victory.
Bonfires burned on Bunker Hill near Boston. People in New York, unwilling to pay the Stamp tax, freely raised money for a statue of King George III. The colonists might sometimes be angry with their king, but they were still his loyal subjects.
The celebration didn't last long. On the same day Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, it also passed the Declaratory Act. The Declaratory Act declared that Parliament had the power to make laws for the colonies.
The Declaratory Act was passed to please King George. No matter how much the colonists whined, the king felt he had the right to tax them.
Even after getting his way, King George was infuriated (some say he was also mad as in crazy!).
George was trying to be a good king. His mother often scolded him, saying, "George, be a King!" Now he would show his mother as well as the colonists that he was the king.
But how?CHAPTER 5
THE "HEROICK" BOYCOTT
Lord Charles Townshend had the answer. Lord Townshend knew the colonists would protest a new tax. His idea was to skip a new tax and simply raise the old tax on paper, rum, lead, glass, tea, and paint. Since the colonists already paid taxes on these items because they imported them, how could they complain?
The colonists answered with a bigger boycott. From Georgia to Massachusetts, colonists boycotted British products.
Women became the driving force behind the boycott. At home they held the pursestrings. Women didn't have political power, but they did have economic power. They used it.
Patriotic women, children and men either did without something or made something new. Patriots drank "Liberty Tea" brewed from sassafras, sage, or even strawberry leaves instead of black tea.
British cloth wasn't purchased. Instead, women and girls sheared their sheep, spun the wool into thread, and wove rough cloth, for shirts and skirts. Patriots proudly wore their "homespun" clothes as a badge of honor. Some firefighters stopped eating lamb so the little critters could grow up and give their wool for the patriotic cause.
Abigail Adams said such actions made her feel "Heroick."
Daughters of Liberty pledged not to marry any man who bought British goods. Sons of Liberty, who were sometimes very violent, began to tar and feather people who bought British items. Their victims were stripped naked, coated with hot tar, and covered with feathers.
The protest over the Townshend Acts reached its peak in 1768 when John Hancock's ship Liberty was boarded by customs agents enforcing the import tax law. They suspected Hancock was smuggling things to avoid paying the duty tax. They were right. Hancock had become very wealthy through smuggling.
When the customs agents stepped back on shore, however, a Boston crowd attacked them. The agents hastily retreated to a British warship.
In 1768 news took six weeks to cross the Atlantic by ship (there was no e-mail.) When King George and Parliament learned what had happened, they had a paddy-whack (British for tantrum).
Excerpted from The Declaration of Independence by Peter Roop, Connie Roop. Copyright © 2005 Peter and Connie Roop. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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