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… July 11–12, 1804, Aaron Burr kills founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel

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OTD in History… July 11–12, 1804, Aaron Burr kills founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr kills founding father and political rival Alexander Hamilton in a sunrise duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, Hamilton would die the next day on July 12. The political rivalry was both political and personal, representing the worst in partisanship between the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Historian Joanne B. Freeman called it in her article, “Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel,” “the most famous duel in American history.” The duel or “affair of honor,” also represented an extreme example of partisanship in the nation’s history. While the political rhetoric between Democrats and Republicans appears the most polarizing with the presidency of Donald Trump, in the era of the first emergence of the two-party system, political rivalries took on a more dangerous tone then a Twitterstorm with the soon fading art of the duel.

Hamilton was born in the West Indies, orphaned as an adolescent, and sent to the colonies for his education, later graduating from King’s College. Then he joined the Continental Army under General George Washington, eventually becoming his aid. Hamilton rose to prominence as a delegate at the Constitutional Convention, where he argued for a strong centralized federal government. Washington appointed him as the first Secretary of the Treasury and his monetary policy including the creation of the first national bank was essential to the new nation keeping economically afloat. In contrast, Burr was born to a rich New Jersey family, where he graduated the College of New Jersey, before entering the Continental Army, where he gained prominence during the attack on Quebec. After the Revolutionary War, Burr ran for New York’s State Assembly and in 1790 was appointed to the Senate.

Burr and Hamilton’s rivalry began in 1791, when Burr won a Senate seat away from Hamilton’s father-in-law Philip Schuyler, a Federalist. Hamilton kept exacting revenge on Burr. Hamilton’s attacks go back to 1796, when Burr ran for the Vice Presidency against Thomas Jefferson, claiming, “I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career.” In 1800, when running mates Jefferson and Burr tied in the Electoral College, Hamilton swayed Federalist Congressman the House of Representatives to break the tie and back Jefferson with a blank vote as opposed to Burr, who wanted now wanted the presidency and refused to step aside.

In 1804, Aaron Burr was not renominated as Vice President on Jefferson’s ticket and decided to pursue the governorship of New York since Governor George Clinton, was chosen as the Democratic-Republican Vice Presidential nominee. Again Hamilton intervened, Federalists were divided between Alexander Hamilton supported candidate Morgan Lewis and Burr, Hamilton support for Lewis again lost Burr a nomination he coveted.

Hamilton’s intervention in the New York gubernatorial nomination and the subsequent correspondence with Burr led him down the path to a certain duel. On April 24, 1804, the Albany Register published a letter between Charles D. Cooper to Hamilton’s father-in-law Schuyler. The letter quoted some of Hamilton’s negative remarks about Burr. The letter read, “General Hamilton and Judge Kent have declared in substance that they looked upon Mr. Burr to be a dangerous man, and one who ought not be trusted with the reins of government.” Copper also said there is “a still more despicable opinion which General Hamilton has expressed of Mr. Burr.”

Burr responded to Hamilton in a letter “delivered by William P. Van Ness,” where he took most offense with the phrase “more despicable.” Burr wanted “a prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expression which would warrant the assertion of Dr. Cooper.” In a letter dated June 20, 1804, Hamilton refused to take responsibility for Cooper’s characterization, but he would “abide the consequences.” The next day, Burr responded, “political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum.” Hamilton again responded on June 22, writing “no other answer to give than that which has already been given.”

Burr, however, did not receive the letter until June 25, Nathaniel Pendleton, who was to deliver it withheld it, while Pendleton and Van Ness conferred the following note:

“General Hamilton says he cannot imagine what Dr. Cooper may have alluded, unless it were to a conversation at Mr. Taylor’s, in Albany, last winter (at which he and General Hamilton were present). General Hamilton cannot recollect distinctly the particulars of that conversation, so as to undertake to repeat them, without running the risk of varying or omitting what might be deemed important circumstances. The expressions are entirely forgotten, and the specific ideas imperfectly remembered; but to the best of his recollection it consisted of comments on the political principles and views of Colonel Burr, and the results that might be expected from them in the event of his election as Governor, without reference to any particular instance of past conduct or private character.”

Burr’s final response was to challenge Hamilton to a duel, Hamilton, who had been involved in ten previous shotless duels, agreed. Most duels, were resolved peacefully before any shots are fired, however, Burr wanted his honor restored and Hamilton refused to recant his slanderous attacks against Burr. Burr felt needed to fight a gentleman and prominent politician as Hamilton to restore his reputation. Duels were illegal in both New York and New Jersey, but New Jersey was lenient and Weehawken across the Hudson was a popular ground for duels.

When the Burr and Hamilton met at 7 a.m. on July 11, there are conflicting recounts as to what occurred from Burr and Hamilton’s second’s Van Ness and Pendleton, respectively. The seconds had their backs facing the duelers both claim the shots were “within a few seconds of each other.” Hamilton chose his position as the one challenged, and supposedly fired a shot in the air above Burr’s head, shots to the ground ended duels; Hamilton sent a conflicting message to Burr. Burr responded shooting Hamilton in the abdomen near his hip, the bullet ricocheted and lodged in Hamilton’s spine, he collapsed immediately, and Burr was ushered away behind an umbrella.

Historian Joseph Ellis pieced together what might have happened in his book, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Ellis believes both second’s versions of what occurred were motivated to spare either Hamilton’s honor or Burr’s future. Ellis writes, “Hamilton did fire his weapon intentionally, and he fired first. But he aimed to miss Burr, sending his ball into the tree above and behind Burr’s location. In so doing, he did not withhold his shot, but he did waste it, thereby honoring his pre-duel pledge. Meanwhile, Burr, who did not know about the pledge, did know that a projectile from Hamilton’s gun had whizzed past him and crashed into the tree to his rear. According to the principles of the code duello, Burr was perfectly justified in taking deadly aim at Hamilton and firing to kill.” (Ellis, 30) Historian Roger G. Kennedy concurs in his book Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character, writing, “Hamilton performed a series of deliberately provocative actions to ensure a lethal outcome. As they were taking their places, he asked that the proceedings stop, adjusted his spectacles, and slowly, repeatedly, sighted along his pistol to test his aim.” (Kennedy, 83)

Hamilton died the next afternoon at his physician’s home in New York. The outrage led to New York charging Burr for murder and dueling and his seconds for accessories to murder in August. In October, New Jersey charged Burr for murder as well. A number of Congressmen requested that New Jersey Governor Joseph Bloomfield have the charge dropped, which he did, New York eventually did the same. Burr was able to escape immediate prosecution because he was still the sitting Vice President, and he finished his term in Washington. Still, the court found Burr guilty of the misdemeanor dueling charge, which barred him from voting and holding political office for twenty years.

Despite their roles in the early founding of the nation, neither Burr nor Hamilton were honorable politically. After completing his term as Vice President, where he presided over Samuel Chase’s impeachment, Burr figured out another way to continue his political aspirations. In 1805, Burr with Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army General James Wilkinson planned to take over part of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and form a new country with Burr as the leader, Burr also considered “seizing” some of Spanish America for his new empire. Burr put in his plans in motion in the fall of 1806, gathering “armed colonists” and going towards New Orleans. General Wilkinson fearing the ramifications, told on Burr to Jefferson. In February 1807, Jefferson had Burr arrested in Louisiana, and he was tried in Virginia for treason, however he was acquitted. The treason and dueling charges destroyed his political reputation.

Historian Thomas Fleming author of Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America does not have any more confidence that Hamilton would have been much better than Burr if he lived. In the CNN article entitled, “What if Aaron Burr had missed Alexander Hamilton?” Fleming described Hamilton as authoritarian leader who would have changed the course of American history and going against the Constitution, he was a part of creating. Fleming claimed Hamilton would have won the presidency in 1808, captured Canada in the War of 1812 creating the United States of North America. He would have broken apart the state of Virginia to smaller states, invade Spanish America to acquire Florida and Texas, and install a “puppet government” in Mexico. Hamilton would have industrialized America quickly, and abolish slavery.

Fleming noted, “The last letter Hamilton wrote before the duel called democracy a ‘disease’ that endangered the republic.” Hamilton would have “eliminated dissent,” instituted libel laws that would have “tamed newspapers” prevent them from ever criticizing is actions, and appointed every federal judge. Additionally, Hamilton would have created the “Christian Constitutional Society” making Christianity the official religion. Fleming notes, “At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Hamilton had given a three-hour speech recommending a president should serve for life,” Hamilton would have put this theory into reality. Soon the Congress and Senate would have been filled with patrons and family members, making an “American royal family.”

Fleming concluded, “A handful of historians would begin debating an even more taboo topic. Astounding as President Hamilton’s achievements had been, they would begin asking each other whether it was a good thing that Aaron Burr had missed on July 11, 1804.” With the Presidency of Donald Trump journalists and historians find his behavior either unprecedented in American history or desperately try to compare to him to previous presidents, but many of his words and actions resemble Hamilton’s worst excesses; views of the journalists, presidency for life, and sabotaging and fights with opponents. For all the recent reverence for founding father Alexander Hamilton, President Trump represents what a President Hamilton might have been.

READ MORE

Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Fleming, Thomas. Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Freeman, Joanne B. “Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 53, №2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 289–318.

Kennedy, Roger G. Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson: A Study in Character. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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.

OTD in History… July 6, 1775, Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms

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OTD in History… July 6, 1775, Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history July 6, 1775, The Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms a day after adopting the Olive Branch Petition declaring fidelity to Great Britain King George III and a last appeal to avoid all-out war. The Congress, however, was leaning towards Revolutionary War, three days earlier on July 3, George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia wrote the declaration and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, the author of the Olive Branch petition revised it. When the King would ignore the Olive Branch Petition and proclaim the colonies in rebellion, the colonies and Congress would set a course to independence just barely a year later.

In the declaration, Congress set “forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms.” Congress utilized the same plan as the Olive Branch; they blamed the British Parliament but not the King. They wrote, “The large strides of late taken by the legislature of Great Britain toward establishing over these colonies their absolute rule…” The Congress also blamed Britain’s minister, writing, the “new ministry finding all the foes of Britain subdued” and that they had “the unfortunate idea of subduing her friends also.” They avoid blaming the king instead, stating “parliament then for the first time assumed a power of unbounded legislation over the colonies of America.” The Congress blamed Parliament for the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and most presumably the most recent one the Battle of Bunker Hill.

The declaration’s draft committee gave the task of writing the declaration to a new delegate to the Second Continental Congress; Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. At that point, Jefferson was not well known, and only proved his writing with one pamphlet “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which argued Parliament has no rights over the colonies. Congress deemed Jefferson’s draft too radical and accusatory, and John Dickinson took over revising the draft to the final form. Instead, of Jefferson accusing Parliament “seeking” to “erect a despotism of unlimited extent” over the colonies, Dickinson wrote, “We mean not to dissolve the union” and “We have not raised Armies with ambitions of separating from Great Britain.” There was a question if Dickinson really subdued Jefferson’s language or just modified it. The declaration still included bold statements such as “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect,” while concluding the colonies “resolved to die Freemen rather than to live Slaves.” Historian John Ferling writing in his book A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic noted, “Nevertheless, even this toned down version, which Congress adopted, was a bold, confrontational document.”

The King gave his response proving to the colonies, Parliament did not act alone. On August 23, 1775, King George III issued “A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” saying the colonies were in an “open and avowed rebellion” after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Then to force conciliation Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act at the end of 1775, prohibiting trade or else American ships would be seized.

It was the last straw; the time was ripe for the independence movement led by John Adams of Massachusetts. Thomas Paine would publish in January his pamphlet Common Sense arguing in favor of the colonies declaring independence and listing the grievances against both Parliament and the King. Historian Peter D. G. Thomas states, “The crisis of 1774 became the war of 1775 and the revolution of 1776” (p. 297). Just a day shy of a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress would adopt the Declaration of Independence permanently severing ties with Great Britain and forming the new democracy, the United States of America.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Ferling, John E. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Thomas, Peter D. G. Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

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.

OTD in history… July 5, 1775, Second Continental Congress adopts Olive Branch Petition last appeal to King George III

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OTD in history… July 5, 1775, Second Continental Congress adopts Olive Branch Petition last appeal to King George III

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Getty Images

On this day in history July 5, 1775, The Second Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition the thirteen colonies’ last appeal to avoid a full war with Great Britain. Delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania authored the petition, which as Historians Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling in their book Events that changed the world in the eighteenth century explain; “proclaimed loyalty to the king and asked that he repudiate his ministers’ actions.” The Congress made it seem their discontent was with Parliament, not the Monarchy. Even Congress knew the conciliation document was fruitless, and the next day, July 6, they adopted a Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms written by Thomas Jefferson, while just on July 3 George Washington assumed command of the Continental Army. Congress was at the tip of a real break with Great Britain King George’s refusal even to read the petition pushed them over into full-on Revolutionary War.

With the Olive Branch Petition, Congress acted under the assumption Britain’s King George III was unaware of the restrictive Coercive Acts the British Parliament imposed on the colonies. Congress decision came just after the first significant battle between the colonies and the British in the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Bunker Hill in Massachusetts on June 17. Although the colonies lost to Britain, they had inflicted significant casualties, after the King began preparing for a larger battle and commenced their plans including sending troops and warships.

Dickinson was also a delegate of the first Continental Congress and authored in 1774 the Petition to the King, in addition to the Olive Branch petition he revised Jefferson’s Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Dickinson was the primary leader in seeking reconciliation, a move that John Adams of Massachusetts and the independence faction useless but hoped a failure would help the cause for independence. Dickinson had the help of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Rutledge and Thomas Johnson, who “served on the draft committee.” The Besides an attempt and at conciliation and pledging fidelity to the King, Dickinson requested the repeal of the Coercive and that the King mediates between the colonies and Parliament.

The introductory paragraph mentioned only 12 of the colonies, excluding Georgia, and they were the only ones that signed the petition as well as John Hancock, the president of the Congress. The petition read, “Your Majesty’s Ministers, persevering in their measures, and proceeding to open hostilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defence, and have engaged us in a controversy so peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your still faithful Colonists, that when we consider whom we must oppose in this contest and if it continues, what may be the consequences, our own particular misfortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our distress…. That your Majesty may enjoy long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honour to themselves and happiness to their subjects, is our sincere prayer.”

The colonies soon discovered King George III agreed with the Parliament’s actions toward them. Richard Penn and Arthur Lee delivered the petition leaving for London on July 8, 1775. On August 21, they handed the petition over the Colonial Secretary Lord Dartmouth and on September 2, they received their response, “We were told that as his Majesty did not receive it on the throne, no answer would be given.” The King refused to read the petition, and instead, on August 23, 1775, issued “A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” saying the colonies were in an “open and avowed rebellion” after the Battle of Bunker Hill. Then to force conciliation Parliament passed the American Prohibitory Act at the end of 1775, prohibiting trade or else American ships would be seized.

It was the last straw; the time was ripe for the independence movement led by John Adams. Thomas Paine would publish in January his pamphlet Common Sense arguing in favor of the colonies declaring independence and listing the grievances against both Parliament and the King. Historian Peter D. G. Thomas states, “The crisis of 1774 became the war of 1775 and the revolution of 1776” (p. 297). Just a day shy of a year later, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress would adopt the Declaration of Independence permanently severing ties with Great Britain and forming the new democracy, the United States of America.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760–1815. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007.

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

Thomas, Peter D. G. Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

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.

OTD in History… July 2, 1776, Second Continental Congress declares American Independence from Great Britain

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OTD in History… July 2, 1776, Second Continental Congress declares American Independence from Great Britain

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, July 2, 1776, 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. 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. Although independence leader John Adams of Massachusetts originally thought 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.

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 a 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. On July 19, the Congress ordered the Declaration engrossed, inscribed by all members of the Continental Congress, most signed the copy on August 2.

Adams wrote to his wife Abigail of the vote on July 3, “Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever 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)

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.

 

In Congress, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

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 compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

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.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.


Georgia

Button Gwinnett

Lyman Hall

George Walton

 

North Carolina

William Hooper

Joseph Hewes

John Penn

 

South Carolina

Edward Rutledge

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Arthur Middleton

 

Massachusetts

John Hancock

Maryland

Samuel Chase

William Paca

Thomas Stone

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

 

Virginia

George Wythe

Richard Henry Lee

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Harrison

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Carter Braxton

 

Pennsylvania

Robert Morris

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Franklin

John Morton

George Clymer

James Smith

George Taylor

James Wilson

George Ross

Delaware

Caesar Rodney

George Read

Thomas McKean

 

New York

William Floyd

Philip Livingston

Francis Lewis

Lewis Morris

 

New Jersey

Richard Stockton

John Witherspoon

Francis Hopkinson

John Hart

Abraham Clark

 

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett

William Whipple

 

Massachusetts

Samuel Adams

John Adams

Robert Treat Paine

Elbridge Gerry

 

Rhode Island

Stephen Hopkins

William Ellery

 

Connecticut

Roger Sherman

Samuel Huntington

William Williams

Oliver Wolcott

 

New Hampshire

Matthew Thornton

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OTD in history… June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified becomes law

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in history… June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified becomes law

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, June 21, 1788, the United States Constitution is ratified after New Hampshire became the ninth out of thirteen states to ratify it, making the Constitution “the law of the land.” After the Revolutionary War, the loose Articles of Confederation did not give the government enough power to govern the new nation. Congress agreed they needed to be revised to create a new constitution. The Constitutional Convention met beginning on May 25, 1787, at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia now known as Independence Hall. Three months later on September 17, 1787, the Congress completed their task of creating a Constitution, which dictated the new federal government with checks and balances, and three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial. The document created and ratified only 10 months later is still 231 years later up for interpretation and has grown with 27 additional amendments to fit the country’s changing needs.

The Articles of Confederation gave the unicameral Congress with one representative from each state very little power, for anything to get accomplished nine states had to vote in favor. As Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling write in their book “Events that changed the world in the eighteenth century,” “Congress was given authority to control foreign affairs, declare war and make peace, coin money, borrow money, requisition states for money, settle interstate disputes, govern the western territory and admit new states, run the postal service, and handle Indian affairs.” (Thackeray and Findling, 133) However, the major problems facing Congress was that they not “authorized to levy taxes or regulate interstate commerce,” and they had “no powers of enforcement.” In 1786, George Washington remarked, “I predict the worst consequences from a half-starved limping government, always moving upon crutches and tottering at every step,” and in 1787, Alexander Hamilton declared the country had “almost the last stage of national humiliation.” (Thackeray and Findling 134)

When the 55 delegates with George Washington as the president met for the Constitutional Convention, they thought they would mostly being amending the Articles of Confederation; however, most wanted a new document. The main points they had to resolve were “representation in Congress, separation of powers, and division of power between the states and the national government.” (Thackeray and Findling, 134) They created two houses a lower House of Representatives, based on population taking into account slaves voted by the people, and an “equally represented” upper house, the Senate was chosen by the state legislatures. Three branches of government were created, legislative, executive and judicial, with “an elaborate set of checks and balances,” which included, “a presidential veto, Congressional authority over money matters, and lifetime tenure for judges.” As for the division of powers, the central government would be able “to levy taxes, regulate foreign and interstate commerce, and pass laws” to implement their powers. (Thackeray and Findling, 135)

In total, there were seven articles to the Constitution. The Constitution began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In September 1787, at the conclusion of the convention 38 out of the 41 delegates signed the new Constitution. To become law, Article VII stipulated nine out of the thirteen states had to ratify it. The Constitution became a subject of much debate, which those supporting called Federalists and those that opposed called anti-Federalists, the factions ended up led by the philosophies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson respectively. The main concerns were the lack of guarantees for “fundamental liberties” and the issue of states’ rights stemming from the fear of “authoritarian central government.” (Thackeray and Findling, 136)

Each state held a ratification convention. Right off, the smaller states starting on December 7, which included “Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut” ratified the Constitution quickly in December and January. Massachusetts, however, put up a fight concerned about the lack of guarantees for “basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press.” In February 1888, the state promised that a Bill of Rights would be amended to the Constitution and then the state narrowly ratified it. Then in April and May Maryland and South Carolina ratified the constitution, however, it failed to pass in Rhode Island in March. On June 21, New Hampshire ratified the Constitution passing it into law.

The two largest states Virginia and New York were on the fence, and although nine states ratified the Constitution, it was necessary for the two states to pass it as well for governing. In Virginia, Washington used his “influence” to ensure ratification in June. In New York it was more complicated the two factions Federalists led by Hamilton and anti-Federalists by Governor George Clinton were dueling it out at the convention, Clinton popularity was preventing ratification. To sway the delegates, Hamilton joined James Madison and John Jay where they wrote a series of commentary in favor of the Constitution called the Federalist Papers. The 85 essays were able to persuade the delegates to ratify the Constitution in July.

Elections were set for December 15, 1788, to Saturday, January 10, 1789, and the government would convene on March 4, 1789, with George Washington elected the first president and John Adams as Vice President. Six months later on September 25, 1789, Congress with Madison added 12 amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which were then sent to the states to ratify. In November 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution. All that was left was holder over Rhode Island, who found fault with the federal government controlling the currency and slavery, when the government “threatened” to cut “commercial ties,” Rhode Island narrowly ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1890, becoming the 13th state to do so. It took over a year later on December 15, 1791, for all the states to ratify the Bill of Rights.

The United States Constitution is the oldest working and most successful in history. The Founding Fathers created a document that had the forethought to grow and expand as the nation, its territories did and times changed. Historian Pauline Maier in her book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 concludes, “The Constitution they gave us proved more successful than its most devoted advocated imagined: It has guided the United States as its boundaries expanded from the Mississippi to the Pacific and its influence spread over the world… Without the Constitution’s critics determined opposition, however, the first ten amendments would not have become a part of the Constitution for later generations to transform into a powerful instrument for the defense of American freedom.” (Maier, 467, 468) Whatever crisis the country has faced or will and whoever becomes the president and whether they abuse their power or not, the Constitution is a living document that protects the nation and its people and their future guaranteeing freedom and the continuation of the oldest and most successful democratic experiment.

SOURCES & READ MORE

Klarman, Michael J. The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2016.

Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is 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.

OTD in History… June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HISTORY & POLITICAL HEADLINES

OTD in History… June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in History June 15, 1775, the Second Continental Congress unanimously votes George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. The Congress chose Virginia delegate Washington because in 1754 he served as “Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty’s Colony” for the British army during the French and Indian War. Washington would accept this central post in America’s fight for independence from Great Britain. Thirteen years later in 1789, again the country would unanimously vote Washington the first President of the United States.

Washington served in the first Continental Congress in the fall of 1774, and in March 1775, was again chosen by Virginia as one of their delegates. This time the colonies were inching closer to war. As Virginia delegate, Patrick Henry declared, “We must fight! Give me liberty or give me death!” War and eventually independence would be on the Second Continental Congress’ agenda when they reconvened on May 10, 1775.

At this point, only militia forces were fighting the British, but they needed a leader after victories against the British with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts on April 19. Besides a leader, the militias were lacking “guns, ammunition, and training.” On June 14, the Continental Congress formed the Continental Army, and Samuel and John Adams nominated Washington as commander. New England’s delegates wanted a leader from their area, while others thought having a commander from the South would make the army a “Continental” one representative of the all 13 of the American colonies.

With Washington from Virginia, he became the consensus candidate. The army needed rich and populous Virginia’s involvement. Washington had the military experience, and at 43-years-old was young enough for the rigors of the war, and he was dedicated to the colonies’ patriotic cause. One New England delegate observed, “He seems discrete and virtuous, no harum-scarum, ranting swearing fellow, but sober, steady, and calm.” After his nomination, Washington recused himself from the voting and the Congress unanimously chose him.

On June 16, Washington delivered an acceptance speech, telling the Congress, “I am truly sensible of the high Honor done me in this Appointment… lest some unlucky event should happen unfavourable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every Gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the Command I am honoured with.” Unlike the soldiers, Washington refused to take a salary; instead, he asked to be for having his expenses paid at the war’s end.

John Adams wrote his wife Abigail about the Congress choosing Washington on June 17, saying, “I can now inform you that the Congress have made Choice of the modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous and brave George Washington Esqr., to be the General of the American Army and that he is to repair as soon as possible to the Camp before Boston.”

The next day, Washington wrote a letter to his wife Martha informing her of his new post. Washington expressed, “It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defense of the American Cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the Command of it. You may believe me my dear Patsy, when I assure you in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it.” Washington admitted, he had no choice to accept the command, writing, “It was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon myself, and given pain to my friends.”

The Congress drafted Washington’s commission on June 17; they officially commissioned Washington as commander on June 19, and he assumed command on June 3, two weeks after the army floundered at the Battle of Bunker Hill outside of Boston, Massachusetts on June 17. Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms also on July 3, explaining the reasons behind the colonies military actions and Revolutionary War against Britain.

As historian James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn in their biography, George Washington noted, “From now on, he promised, he would devote himself solely to ‘American Union and Patriotism.’ All smaller and partial considerations would ‘give way to the great and general Interest.’” Washington would serve as the commander leading the newly formed United States to independence and victory against the British, resigning on December 23, 1783. Five years later in 1789, Washington would lead the new nation again, when he was elected the first President of the United States. His two-term presidency would be the model followed throughout American history.

SOURCES

Burns, James M. G, and Susan Dunn. George Washington. New York: Times Books, 2004.

Findling, John E, and Frank W. Thackeray. Events That Changed America in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, Conn Greenwood Press Birmingham, AL, USA EBSCO Industries, Inc., 1998.

READ MORE

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin, 2010.

Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency George Washington. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. New York: Random House, 2005.

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