1776 Assignment Notebook

Basic chronology.

June 7, 1776: Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee presents resolution of independence to the Second Continental Congress.

June 11: Committee of five appointed to draft a declaration explaining America’s right to secede: Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson.

The others drop out in the following order: Sherman, Livingston, Franklin, and Adams. Jefferson signs and undertakes to write the document, “consulting neither book nor pamphlet.” (Showoff!)

June 28: Committee presents Jefferson’s draft to the Continental Congress.

July 2: Congress passes resolution of independence – the die is cast.

July 4: After two days of intense debate, Congress adopts a chastened (TJ said mutilated) version of Jefferson’s declaration of independence.

August 2: There was never a formal signing ceremony. The document certainly wasn’t signed on the Fourth of July. Once the engraved copy had been prepared, most delegates signed on or around August 2, 1776.

The great John Adams, who played a much more significant role in the American Revolution than did Jefferson, developed both a short-term and later a long-term reaction to the events of the first week of July 1776. In the moment, overwhelmed with pride and revolutionary excitement, Adams wrote a letter to his “dearest friend” Abigail, his wife, on July 3. The great letter contains the following exuberant paragraph:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Well, sir, you were half right. At the instant when this was all unfolding, Adams rightly predicted the ways in which the American people would come to celebrate the birth of their republic. But he was off by two days on the celebration date.

Much later, when Jefferson’s fame and popularity had soared beyond that of many of the other figures of the Revolution, including Adams, Adams attempted to restore the balance in his own favor. He made it clear that he could have written the Declaration of Independence if he had wanted to but that, in an act of selfless nobility, he handed the assignment off to young Jefferson. He suggested in letters that there was nothing original in Jefferson’s document; in fact, Jefferson had merely copied from a range of state and local declarations to produce his synthesis. And, when he was truly upset with his former “protege,” the earthy Adams raged, “You have run away with” the Revolution.

All that historians can conclude is this. Jefferson had nothing to do with America’s preference for the fourth of July over the second of July–unless you credit what even Adams called Jefferson’s “peculiar felicity for expression” for lifting what might have been a routine state paper into global immortality. Jefferson did not seek to write the Declaration of Independence. In fact, he tried to talk his way out of the assignment. The simple fact is that on the Fourth of July 1776, one of the handful of most important documents in the history of the world was adopted by a group of principled intellectuals from Britain’s colonies in North America. If you start to make a list of the most important and influential documents ever written–the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation, the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights–there can be no list that does not place Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in the top ten, indeed top five.

Why? Because Jefferson had spent a lifetime to hard reading and composing lucid prose in order to be ready when the moment came. As a young man he read 12-15 hours a day. Doesn’t leave much time for firecrackers. Jefferson had a genius for piercing through the immediate to the universal significance of things. The Revolution wasn’t finally about Britain. It was about the aspirations of humankind. Jefferson was a humanist in the profoundest sense of the term.

The irony is that Jefferson would probably have been happy to steer fireworks, parades, and bratwurst to the Second of July, and devote the Fourth of July to seminars on liberty, a thoughtful toast with a fine glass of Bordeaux, a rigorous checklist survey of how well human liberty is doing against the forces of creeping bureaucracy, regulation, taxation, and big government.

He never did figure out how to fire off a Roman candle.

So today, July 2, 2017, I lift my glass to irascible, contentious, prickly, earthy, vain, self-pitying, and unbearably honest and virtuous John Adams. Let the parades begin.

It may be worth noting that in 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the American Revolution, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day–on the FOURTH OF JULY.

Checkmate, Mr. Adams.

Clay Jenkinson

Filed Under: Clay's Notebook

*H = Historical Context:
Context is the "setting" for an event that occurs, and it will have an impact on the relevance of the event. Context is an important factor to consider when examining a document or historical character or time period. History should be looked at through the lens of Historical Context.

*I = Intended Audience: 
Each historical document, political cartoon, graph/chart, textbook, etc. has an intended audience and as a student you should recognize who and why was a document written to a specific group of people.

*P = Purpose: 
Every historical source has a given purpose and students should be able to explain to the Reader why was a particular document created?

*P = Point of View:
Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion and/or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation.

*O = Outside Information:
Explain to the Reader one piece of outside information that is not contained in the document (but can be spurred from the document), and then explain how that piece of outside information is distinguishable from the historical source and how this outside information helps to explain the question or time period being discussed. 

H.I.P.P.O.ing Example

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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Historical Context: The historical context of the Declaration of Independence was that it was written over a year after the American Revolution has started and it shows that the American colonists were reluctant revolutionaries. It was only after King George III usurped and declared war on the colonists that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston gathered together and helped to create the Declaration of Independence.

Intended Audience: The intended audience of the Declaration of Independence was written first to the American Colonists letting them know that the 2nd Continental Congress has unanimously chosen to separate from the British Empire, and secondly it was written to King George III to explain the many reasons why the colonies were choosing this path of separation.

Purpose: The purpose of the Declaration of Independence is to formally separate the thirteen British colonies from their allegiance with the British crown and show the rationale for this separation.

POV: The point of view of the Declaration of Independence is from a very frustrated group of British colonists that are finally fed up with all of the injuries and usurpations by King George III and the British government by July of 1776.  

Outside Information (Evidence): John Adams was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, but he also will be someone very interested once the American Revolution is over that the newly separated colonies still have a relationship with the British Empire. This is why John Adams will be made the first minister to Great Britain and will be the first American to great King George III as a American representative following the conclusion of the American Revolution. (notice…completely outside the document). 

The Americans textbook - This is the textbook the on-level kids use, but you can find good information here.
Iroquois HIPPO Document from class

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