OTD in History… August 2, 1776, Second Continental Congress delegates sign the Declaration of Independence

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OTD in History… August 2, 1776, Second Continental Congress delegates sign the Declaration of Independence

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 2, 1776, the delegates of the second Continental Congress sign a printed copy of the Declaration of Independence ratified on July 4. On this day, the majority of the 56 Congressional delegates signed their names to an enlarged copy of the Declaration of Independence. For order, they signed by geographic area from the Northern states down to the South. President of the Congress, John Hancock’s signature was in the middle followed underneath by the five rows of signatures, which according to the History Channel, “began with Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire and ending with George Walton of Georgia.” As the Constitution Center indicates, “August 2, 1776, is one of the most important but least celebrated days in American history.”

Fewer delegates were present at the Congress on August 2 than the July 4 ratification 45 to 49 respectively, Generals George Washington, John Sullivan, James Clinton and Christopher Gadsden and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry were absent on that day and could not sign. While, not all the delegates were excited to sign the document, “John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and James Duane, Robert Livingston and John Jay of New York refused to sign, New York was the most reluctant state to endorse independence, they were among seven delegates present at the ratification, who did not sign the declaration. Although, “Carter Braxton of Virginia; Robert Morris of Pennsylvania; George Reed of Delaware; and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina,” opposed the Declaration of independence but signed the document “to give the impression of a unanimous Congress.” Among the delegates who signed the declaration after August 2, were Richard Henry Lee, George Wythe, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, Matthew Thornton, and the seven additional delegates added to the convention after July 4.

The movement towards independence began in earnest in late 1775, when reconciliation with Britain seemed impossible with a banning of trade with the colonies. Benjamin Franklin started hinting of independence to France in December 1775. Independence talk reached a fever pitch when Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense in April 1776 arguing for independence. By June, the Continental Congress first brought a vote for independence finally doing so at the start of July. On July 2, the second Continental Congress meeting in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia voted to sever ties with Great Britain’s monarchy and declare the 13 colonies independent; they ratified their vote on July 4, the day the nation celebrates American Independence each year.

In June 1776, Virginian Richard Henry Lee introduced the resolution which 12 of colonies voted in favor to “dissolved the connection” with Britain, with only New York abstaining. (McCullough, 150) Lee first introduced the resolution on June 7, but New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina were not willing to break with Britain at that point. On June 11, Congress appointed a five-member committee to draft a declaration of independence and causes for separating from Britain, consisting of “John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia,” with Jefferson designated to write the document.

Jefferson decided the document needed to convince the colonists of the need for independence and fighting in the revolution. He stated that government is a social contract with its citizens to protect their rights, “the natural rights of life, liberty, and property, for populist reasons Jefferson replaced to the “pursuit of happiness.” He derived the natural rights argument from political philosopher John Locke, who used in 1668, during Britain’s Glorious Revolution. Jefferson indicated when the government fails to fulfill the contract; it is “self-evident” that the people can break from the government.

The preamble’s most famous line was “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.” Most of the document, however, was a list of grievances to King George III justifying independence and the Revolutionary War. Historians Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling in their book Events that changed the world in the eighteenth century noted, “The Declaration of Independence is deservedly famous in American history. One would hardly expect to find in it an unbiased resume of grievances; it was meant as propaganda aimed at the undecided both in America and abroad, especially the French.” (Thackeray and Findling 98)

Congress reviewed the document’s final draft on June 28, and on July 1, the Congress took up the vote for independence again, however, they needed an unanimous vote, and waited for the next day, July 2, to vote. Jefferson submitted his revision to what was the Declaration of Independence, and the Congress ratified and published it on July 4 as a Dunlap Broadside officially severing ties with Britain and declaring independence. The Congress had printer John Dunlap make 200 copies of the Declaration. On July 8, Colonel John Nixon of Philadelphia read the document “to the public for the first time in Independence Square.” On July 19, the Congress ordered the Declaration engrossed and inscribed by all members of the Continental Congress, and most signed the copy on August 2.

Although independence leader John Adams of Massachusetts originally thought July 2, the day Congress voted for independence would be celebrated writing, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America,” the day Congress adopted the Declaration, July 4, remains the official day celebrated for the past 242 years. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail of the vote on July 3, “Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, whichever was decided in America, and a greater question perhaps, never was or will be decided among men.” Adams also predicted Americans would continue celebrating the date, “I am apt to believe that [Independence Day] 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.” However, the date Adams referred to was July 2.

The declaration of Independence’s purpose was practical but its impact far greater not only to the then newly formed United States of America but for other nations looking for a Democratic ideal. Historian Joseph J. Ellis in his book American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic identified the significance of Jefferson’s first sentence. Ellis analyzed, “We can say with considerable confidence that these were destined to become the most potent and consequential words in American history, perhaps in modern history. They became the political fountainhead for all the liberal reforms that would seep out and over the nation, and eventually much of the world.” (Ellis, 56) On January 18, 1777, printer Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore printed out the final official copy of the signed Declaration of Independence was printed, it was the first time the delegates names who signed were made public.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

McCullough, David. 1776. London: Allen Lane/Penguin Books, 2006.

Thackeray, Frank W. Events That Changed the World in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

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OTD in History… August 1–8, 1943, the Japanese attack John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… August 1–8, 1943, the Japanese attack John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 1–8, 1943, during World War II the Japanese attack Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat, slitting it in two. As captain of the ship, Kennedy brought the surviving crew members to safety and helped get word to the American base to save them. Kennedy’s role made him a hero back in the United States, not just because of family connections, but spite of them. Kennedy became the example of equality of classes in the military. His newfound hero status helped launch his political career after the war, where he won a seat in Congress in 1946, in less than 14 years he would rise to the Senate and then the presidency. When asked about his hero status, Kennedy would say, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.”

Originally, in 1941, the military refused Kennedy entry into the navy because of his health problems, stemming from an old college football injury. His father former Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, however, used his influence “to get” his son “into the navy.” At first, Kennedy worked in the Office of Naval Intelligence. In 1942, after completing the Naval Reserve Officers Training School and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center, Kennedy was assigned to be a captain of a “PT (motorized torpedo) boat” in the Pacific theater of the war.

As part of The Battle of Blackett Strait the Japanese bombed the PT base at Rendova Island, while the Americans made an unsuccessful attempt to attack Tokyo Express and the Japanese Destroyers escorting it to bring supplies to Kolombangara Island. Afterward, Kennedy’s PT-109 was one of the boats left out to patrol the waters near Blackett Strait, “south of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands.” On the moonless dark night of August 2 at around 2:30 a.m. Japan’s Amaqiri attacked Kennedy’s PT-109, in barely a minute from Kennedy first sighting the Amaqiri, the destroyer broke the PT-109 in half.

In the attack, two of the crew died, 11 survived buy was left clinging to the wreckage hull, with one badly injured, engineer Patrick McMahon. Kennedy and two others swam out to bring those thrown from the boat back to the hull. Kennedy and the 10 crewmen clung to the hull for nine hours but as it was about to sink decided they should try to swim to a small island that was visible which was either “Bird or Plum Pudding Island,” just south of Ferguson Passage, used often by the PTs. Kennedy tied the wounded to him and clenching the ties in his mouth, while “McMahon floated on his back.” The swim took five hours until they reached the Island. (Dallek)

Kennedy hoped maybe American PTs might be in the Ferguson Passage and went out almost immediately after they reached the island to scout the area. Kennedy reached there within an hour and stayed a while, the naval commanders believed that no one survived the PT-109 attack, and shifted their course to the Vella Gulf. Kennedy was sick from the swimming and lack of sleep and could not go out again on August 3 sending out another crew member to swim to the passage.

On August 4, they swam to nearby Olasana Island looking for food but found none. On August 5, Kennedy and crew member Barney Ross swam to another nearby island Nauru Island, which was close to Ferguson Passage. There they found “a one-man canoe, a fifty-five-gallon drum of freshwater, and some crackers and candy,” left by the Japanese. Kennedy took the canoe and supplies back to the crew, while Ross remained. There two native islanders found the men and were taking care of them.

Kennedy returned to Nauru Island on August 6, he carved into a coconut shell the message, “Nauru Is. Native knows posit. He can pilot. 11 alive need small boat. Kennedy.” Kennedy gave it to the two natives, that night him and Ross went out to the passage again looking for help. On August 7, eight natives returned to Nauru Island giving Kennedy and Ross a letter from a New Zealand Infantry Lieutenant Allied coastwatcher, Lt. A. Reginald Evans, who was working with the US military on New Georgia. The letter read; “I strongly advise you to come with these natives to me. Meanwhile, I shall be in radio communication with your authorities at Rendova and we can finalize plan to collect balance of your party.” (Dallek) Late evening they took Kennedy to Gomu, Evan’s camp. Instead, of directly saving the crew, they picked up Kennedy at his request to guide PT 157 and PT 171 to the surviving crew on Olasana, where the rescued were taken to Renova early morning on August 8.

At home, Kennedy was hailed as a hero, John Hersey told Kennedy and the PT-109 story to the public in the New York Times and Reader’s Digest, it was front page on the Boston Globe. Kennedy was given the option to go home, instead, he chose to remain and fight for those he lost. Kennedy took a week off for fatigue and to heal the wounds to his feet and he returned to active duty on August 16. Later he would be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart. For all the press that the incident brought Kennedy, including a Hollywood take on PT-109, Kennedy never saw himself as a hero. According to Robert Dallek in his biography An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963, “Jack himself viewed his emergence as an American hero with wry humor and becoming modesty.” (Dallek) The combination of the modest hero, however, only added to the Kennedy mystique that became Camelot.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, Mass: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.

Doyle, William. PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2015.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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