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This Week in History

June 2010

This article was originally published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.

June 24-30, 1776

Benjamin Franklin (center) and the leaders of the revolutionary youth movement inspired by him (from the top, left to right): John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, Mathew Carey, James Madison, John Marshall and James Monroe.

We turn our attention this week to the historical significance and setting of the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress of the American colonies on July 2, 1776, but finalized, and sent to the printer, on July 4, 1776. Seldom has there been a document of more far-reaching import than this Declaration, which sets forth the inalienable rights upon which the American Republic, and its Constitution, were based.

Is it possible there is anything new to say about this event? you might ask. Perhaps not, but the degradation of our culture today makes it crucial to underscore certain points that are generally obscured, if not denied.

First, it must be stressed that the Declaration of Independence represented a unique foundation for the establishment of a nation. Here was a group of men putting forth a set of principles, which amounted to a coherent concept of natural law, as the basis for a country. Rather than being bound by territory, or dynasty, or tribe, the new nation was being founded on an idea.

Second, because it was based upon a universal principle, the Declaration immediately had global significance, and was understood as both an inspiration, and challenge, to peoples throughout the world, immediately upon its publishing.

A speech by John Quincy Adams in July of 1821 powerfully expresses how republicans understood the Declaration, in its eternal meaning. "It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude.... From the day of this Declaration, the people of North America were no longer the fragment of a distant empire, imploring justice and mercy from an inexorable master in another hemisphere. They were no longer children appealing in vain to the sympathies of a heartless mother; no longer subjects leaning upon the shattered columns of royal promises, and invoking the faith of parchment to secure their rights. They were a nation, asserting as of right, and maintaining by war, its own existence....

"It will be acted o'er, fellow-citizens, but it can never be repeated. It stands, and must for ever stand, alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light till time shall be lost in eternity, and this globe itself dissolve, nor leave a wrack behind. It stands for ever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men, a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed. So long as this planet shall be inhabited by human beings, so long as man shall be of social nature, so long as government shall be necessary to the great moral purposes of society, and so long as it shall be abused to the purposes of oppression, so long shall this Declaration hold out to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties, founded in the laws of nature, and of nature's God...."

This statement brings us to the third major point about the Declaration, which should not be ignored. This document's adoption was a strategic move by the Founding Fathers of the United States, one that was undertaken in the face of an imminent British attack on New York City, and that provided a crucial rallying point for Americans in a war that was to last at least another five years. Indeed, there was a heated battle over whether independence should be declared, and only a continentally coordinated effort permitted it to happen.

One of the key actors was none other than John Adams. It was May 10, right after the British Navy had unsuccessfully moved to enter the Delaware River near Philadelphia, when Adams made his move. With Virginian Richard Henry Lee, he put forward a resolution recommending that the colonies assume all powers of government—to secure "the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general." After this passed, right away, Adams put up a preamble for a vote. This preamble put the matter more starkly, concluding that "it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as the defense of their lives, liberties, and properties, against hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies."

The opposition in the Continental Congress went wild, but after heated debate, the preamble passed on May 15. As the news poured in that the British troop strength was growing, Lee and Adams took the next step. On Friday June 7, Lee made the following resolution:

"...That these United Colonies are, and of a 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."

In the debate that followed, there were many who claimed that the Congress should wait to hear from the people (!) before taking such a radical step. Others, such as Adams, Lee, and Virginian George Wythe, argued that the people were waiting for leadership, which the Congress must show. It was clear by that time, however, that the pro-independence grouping was ahead, and a Committee of Five, consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Benjamin Franklin, was appointed to draft a "declaration of independence," which was scheduled to be voted on, on July 1, 1776.

(to be continued)

Related pages:

Image of the American Patriot

Education, Science and Poetry

The Four Powers Alliance