American Minute explores pivotal moments and facts surrounding significant people and events from American history.
Minutes from a moment of American history
38-year-old King George III ruled the largest empire that planet earth had ever seen.
The Declaration of Independence, approved July 4, 1776, listed the reasons why Americans declared their independence from the King:He has made judges dependent on his will alone... He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies... To subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution... For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us... For imposing taxes on us without our consent... For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of trial by jury... For ... establishing ... an arbitrary government... For ... altering fundamentally the forms of our governments... He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny... He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions...”
33-year-old Thomas Jefferson's original rough draft of the Declaration contained a line condemning slavery:
"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself ... in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither... suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce determining to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold."
A few delegates objected, and since the Declaration needed to pass unanimously and time was running short with the British invading New York, the line condemning slavery was unfortunately omitted.
John Hancock, the 39-year-old President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration first, reportedly saying, "the price on my head has just doubled."
Next to sign was Secretary, Charles Thomson, age 47.
70-year-old Benjamin Franklin said, "We must hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately.
The Declaration referred to God:
"Laws of Nature and of nature's God...
All Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...
Appealing to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...”
"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."
This was revolutionary, as kings claimed "the divine right of kings," namely, that the Creator gives rights to the king, who dispenses them as his discretion to his subjects.
The American Declaration bypasses the King, declaring that the Creator gives rights directly to "all men."
Many of the 56 signers sacrificed their prosperity for their posterity.
Of the Signers:11 had their homes destroyed 5 were hunted and captured 17 served in the military 9 died during the war
27-year-old George Walton signed, and at the Battle of Savannah was wounded and captured.
Signers Edward Rutledge, age 27, Thomas Heyward, Jr., age 30, and Arthur Middleton, age 34, were made prisoners at the Siege of Charleston.
38-year-old signer Thomas Nelson had his home used as British headquarters during the siege of Yorktown. Nelson reportedly offered five guineas to the first man to hit his house.
Signer Carter Braxton, age 40, lost his fortune during the war.
42-year-old signer Thomas McKean wrote that he was "hunted like a fox by the enemy, compelled to remove my family five times in three month."
46-year-old Richard Stockton signed and was dragged from his bed at night and jailed.
50-year-old signer Lewis Morris had his home taken and used as a barracks.
50-year-old signer Abraham Clark had two sons tortured and imprisoned on the British starving ship Jersey. More Americans died on British starving ships than died in battle during the Revolution.
53-year-old signer John Witherspoon's son, James, was killed in the Battle of Germantown.
60-year-old signer Philip Livingston lost several properties to British occupation and died before the war ended.
63-year-old signer Francis Lewis had his wife imprisoned and treated so harshly, she died shortly after her release.
65-year-old signer John Hart had his home looted and had to remain in hiding, dying before the war ended.
41-year-old John Adams wrote to his wife of the Declaration:
"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."
–American Minute excerpts are from content produced by historian and author William “Bill” J. Federer. Visit www.AmericanMinute.com to view American Minute archives, listen to recorded broadcasts and purchase Federer’s books.