Reporter’s Notebook: These United States
The creation of what would become the United States of America was not an easy thing to agree upon
There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence by Aug. 2, 1776, (the motion for independence was adopted by the 2nd Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, but the actual declaration wasn’t approved until July 4.)
There were only 12 states that agreed to the Declaration of Independence (New York abstained, as British troops were landing on Staten Island on July 3, 1776. I’d be hesitant to sign a death sentence, too). And just getting 12 states to say yes was a monumental challenge.
The New England states were all about independence. While all states endured hardships due to British taxes to pay for the conflict with the French in the mid-1770s, New England was the first to shed blood defending its rights under British law — rights it believed were being trampled on by King George III.
They saw their comrades bleeding on the ground after the Boston Massacre. British troops were stationed in Boston due to the local hostility to a series of taxes on the necessities of life. The Bostonians grew increasingly frustrated, and that frustration resulted in a showdown where the Red Coats fired into a group to disperse the crowd.
They dispersed that day, but they didn’t forget. Most of the taxes went away when the bulk of the colonies balked. But a tax on tea remained. The Bostonians, once again, showed their disdain by dumping the British tea into the harbor. That became the last straw for the Crown, which locked down Boston Harbor, sent in more troops, curtailed liberties and removed much of the local governing structure.
When the British decided to start confiscating weapons from the local militia, you got the battles of Concord and Lexington, where the colonists battled with the boys in red and won. That escalated into Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill). The British won that battle but took so much damage that the colonists largely won the symbolic victory for taking on the best military organization in the world.
The good folks of New England were, naturally, all about telling England to shove off and form a country of their own. The mid-Atlantic and southern states, however, were not so quick to agree to a disconnect with the mother country.
Back in those days the people of New England were considered the country folk, while the people of the southern states were rich and affluent. Easy to be that way when you have low labor costs (due to the enslavement of blacks). The British were not in Georgia or South Carolina. They were not fans of the taxes, but they still saw reconciliation with England as a possibility. The same goes for the mid-Atlantic states, but they also saw what was happening in New England and were afraid that they were next.
So, there wasn’t a consensus on independence. It was going to take a lot of work to get the unanimous votes to make independence possible. It was also going to take North and South to unite.
It was a relationship between Massachusetts and Virginia that helped get the votes for independence. John Adams (obviously my favorite Founding Father) and Thomas Jefferson made it happen. It was Adams’ constant and tireless advocacy for independence that helped sway votes. Adams served on multiple committees and nominated George Washington to command the armed men who became the Continental Army.
Adams was also the one who picked Jefferson as the writer of the Declaration of Independence. These were two unlikely allies. Adams was loud, opinionated, and blunt (much like me). Jefferson was quiet, seldom spoke out and kept his nose in books. But Adams gave Jefferson the job of writing the Declaration because he knew his own limitations. Adams knew that any declaration from him might hurt its chances. He also knew Jefferson was one heck of a writer.
Adams also knew that Massachusetts couldn’t make the motion for independence. He needed a southern state to help bring everyone on board. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee made the motion. South Carolina came on board, helping bring the rest of the southern states on board. The influence of Benjamin Franklin — who served on the independence committee with Adams and Jefferson — helped bring Pennsylvania and other Mid-Atlantic states to the table.
By July 4, they had their Declaration of Independence. They didn’t all agree at first, but they all came together for the good of the people in the colonies they represented.
It would appear that West Virginia’s county and state Republican Party leaders could learn some lessons from those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.