Reconnect with Our Founding Document
'We have it in our power to begin the world over again,' wrote Tom Paine on February 14, 1776. 'A situation, similar to the present,' he continued, 'hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand.'
On June 7, 1776 Virginia's Richard Henry Lee presented his resolution to the Second Continental Congress, which began with the words:
'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 connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.'
Before recessing, Congress appointed the Committee of Five, consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, representing all regions of the 13 United Colonies. Their job was to draft a statement presenting the case for independence so forcefully proposed by Richard Henry Lee.
Fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson later wrote that the Committee's members
'unanimously pressed on myself to undertake the draught. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the Committee, I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. Then I wrote a fair copy, reported it to the Committee, and from them, unaltered to Congress.'
All of this wonderful background material about our Declaration of Independence, and much more, is available at the National Archives website. I strongly urge anyone interested in learning more about that founding document, in reconnecting with its rich history, to visit it: read about its underlying philosophy, its stylistic artistry, how the Virginia Declaration of Rights influenced Jefferson's writing of its first section, plus other interesting facts and information such as the fates of those who signed it, plus links to other Declaration sites.
It is a site for those who already know this subject well, for those who used to, and for those who know little or nothing about our Declaration of Independence, whose signing we celebrate on July 4th... but that's not accurate. One of the things you'll learn is that while the document was agreed to on the 4th, it was not actually signed until August 2, 1776. Whatever the date, the words are timeless. Here is the last paragraph:
'We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare. 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 connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.'
Writing about 'the new world' created by Declaration of Independence years later, Jefferson wrote some words that have resonated throughout the history of this Republic:
'The flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776 have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.'
John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.