The Story of the Signing (of the Declaration of Independence


21 AHMP The Signing of the Declaration

In celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I thought you might like to hear a fascinating recount of the events that surrounded the signing. It was published in Scribner’s Monthly in July of 1876, and the article which is entitled “The Story of the Signing” will be included in a new colonial style pamphlet that I will be publishing about the Declaration in a few weeks. Stay tuned for more information about that, but for now I am proud to tell you the “Story of the Signing”:

“In the days of the Continental Congress the delegates used to travel to the capital, at the beginning of each session, from their several homes, usually on horseback ; fording streams, sleeping at miserable country inns, sometimes weather-bound for days, sometimes making circuits to avoid threatened dangers, sometimes accomplishing forced marches to reach Philadelphia in time for some special vote.

There lie before me the unpublished papers of one of the signers of the great Declaration, and these papers comprise the diaries of several such journeys. Their simple records rarely include bursts of patriotism or predictions of national glory, but they contain many plaintive chronicles of bad beds and worse food, mingled with pleasant glimpses of wayside chat, and now and then a bit of character-painting that recalls the jovial narratives of Fielding.

Sometimes they give a passing rumor of ‘the glorious news of the surrendering of the Colonel of the Queen’s Dragoons with his whole army,’ but more commonly they celebrate ‘milk toddy and bread and butter’ after a wetting, or ‘the best dish of Bohea tea I have drank for a twelvemonth.’ When they arrived at Philadelphia, the delegates put up their horses, changed their riding gear for those habiliments which Trumbull has immortalized, and gathered to Independence Hall to greet their brother delegates, to interchange the gossip of the day, to repeat Dr. Franklin’s last anecdote or Francis Hopkinson’s last gibe; then proceeding, when the business of the day was opened, to lay the foundation for a new nation.

‘Before the 19th of April, 1775,’ said Jefferson, ‘I had never heard a whisper of a disposition to separate from the mothercountry.’ Washington said : ‘When I first took command of the army (July 3, 1775), I abhorred the idea of independence ; but I am now fully convinced that nothing else will save us.’ It is only by dwelling on such words as these that we can measure that vast educational process which brought the American people to the Declaration of Independence, in 1776.

The Continental Congress, in the earlier months of that year, had for many days been steadily drifting on toward the distinct assertion of separate sovereignty, and had declared it irreconcilable with reason and a good conscience for the colonists to take the oaths required for the support of the Government under the Crown of Great Britain. But it was not till the 7th of June, that Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, rose and read these resolutions:

‘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 theState of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

‘That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign alliances.

‘That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective colonies for their consideration and approbation.’

These resolutions were presented under direct instructions from the Virginia Assembly, the delegates from that colony selecting Mr. Lee as their spokesman.[1] They were at once seconded, probably after previous

understanding, by John Adams, of Massachusetts, — Virginia and Massachusetts being then the leading colonies. It was a bold act, for it was still doubtful whether anything better than a degrading death would await these leaders, if unsuccessful. Gage had written, only the year before, of the prisoners left in his hands at Bunker Hill, that ‘their lives were destined to the cord.’

Indeed, the story runs that a similar threat was almost as frankly made to the son of Mr. Lee, then a schoolboy in England. He was one day standing near one of his teachers, when some visitor asked the question: ’What boy is that?’ ’He is the son of Richard Henry Lee, of America, ’the teacher replied. On this the visitor put his hand on the boy’s head and said : ’We shall yet see your father’s head upon Tower Hill,’ — to which the boy answered: ’You may have it when you can get it.’[2] This was the way in which the danger was regarded in England; and we know that Congress directed the Secretary to omit from the journals the names of the mover and seconder of these resolutions. The record only says, ’Certain resolutions respecting independence being moved and seconded, Resolved, That the consideration of them be deferred until to-morrow morning; and that the members be enjoined to attend punctually at ten o’clock, in order to take the same into their consideration.’

On the next day the discussion came up promptly and was continued through Saturday, June 8, and on Monday, June 10. The resolutions were opposed, even with bitterness, by Robert Livingston, of New York, by Dickinson and Wilson, of Pennsylvania, and by Rutledge, of South Carolina. The latter is reported to have said privately, ’that it required the impudence of a New Englander for them in their disjointed state to propose a treaty to a nation now at  peace; that no reason could be assigned for pressing into this measure but, the reason of every madman, a show of spirit.’[3] On the other hand, the impudence, if such it was, of John Adams, went so far as to defend the resolutions as stating ’objects of the most stupendous magnitude, in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn were intimately interested;’ as belonging to ’a revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable, of any in the history of nations.’ On Monday, the resolutions were postponed, by a vote of seven colonies against five, until that day three weeks; and it was afterward voted (June 11), ’in the meanwhile, that no time be lost, in case Congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to that effect.’ Of this committee, Mr. Lee would doubtless have been the chairman, had he not been already on his way to Virginia, to attend the sick-bed of his wife. His associate, Thomas Jefferson, was named in his place, together with John Adams, of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, and Robert R. Livingston, of New York.

This provided for the Declaration; and on the appointed Day, July 1, 1776, Congress proceeded to the discussion of the momentous resolutions. Little remains to us of the debate, and the best glimpse of the opening situation is afforded to the modern reader through a letter written by Mr. Adams to Mercy Warren, the historian, — a letter dated ’Quincy, 1807,’ but not printed until within a few years, when it was inserted by Mr. Frothingham in the appendix to his invaluable ’Rise of the Republic of the United States.’ The important passage is as follows:

’I remember very well what I did say; but I will previously state a fact as it lies in my memory, which may be somewhat explanatory of it. In the previous multiplied debates which we had upon the subject of independence, the delegates from New Jersey had voted against us; their constituents were informed of it and recalled them, and sent us a new set on purpose to vote for independence. Among these were

Chief-Justice Stockton and Dr. Witherspoon. In a morning when Congress met, we expected the question would be put and carried without any further debate; because we knew we had a majority, and thought that argument had been exhausted on both sides, as indeed it was, for nothing new was ever afterward advanced on either side. But the Jersey delegates, appearing for the first time, desired that the question might be discussed.

We observed to them that the question was so public, and had been so long discussed in pamphlets, newspapers, and at every fireside, that they could not be uninformed, and must have made up their minds. They said it was true they had not been inattentive to what had been passing abroad, but they had not heard the arguments in Congress, and did not incline ’to give their opinions until they should hear the sentiments of members

there. Judge Stockton was most particularly importunate, till the members began to say, ‘Let the gentlemen be gratified,’ and the eyes of the assembly were turned upon me, and several of them said: ‘Come, Mr. Adams; you have had the subject longer at heart than any of us, and you must recapitulate the arguments.’ I was somewhat confused at this personal application to me, and would have been very glad to be excused; but, as no other person rose, after some time I said: ‘This is the first time in my life when I seriously wished for the genius and eloquence of the celebrated orators of Athens and Rome: called in this unexpected and unprepared manner to exhibit all the arguments in favor of a measure the most important, in my judgment, that had ever been discussed in civil or political society, I had no art or oratory to exhibit, and could produce nothing but simple reason and plain common sense. I felt myself oppressed by the weight of the subject, and I believed if Demosthenes, or Cicero had ever been called to deliberate on so great a question, neither would have relied on his own talents without a supplication to Minerva, and a sacrifice to Mercury or the God of Eloquence.’ All this, to be sure, was but a flourish, and not, as I conceive, a very bright exordium; but I felt awkwardly.[4] ’I wish some one had remembered the speech, for it is almost the only one I ever made that I wish was literally preserved.’[5]

’John Adams,’ said Jefferson long afterward to Mr. Webster and Mr. Ticknor. ’was our Colossus on the floor. He was not graceful, nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent, but he came out occasionally with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.’ It seems a pity that no adequate specimens remain to us of this straightforward eloquence. And yet it is cause for congratulation, on the whole, that the only speech fully written out after that debate, was the leading argument for the negative. Long years have made us familiar with the considerations that led to national independence; the thing of interest is to know what was said against it ; and this is just what we happen to know, through the record of a single speech.

After any great measure has been carried through, men speedily forget the objections and the objectors, and in a hundred years can hardly believe that any serious opposition was ever made. How utterly has the name of John Dickinson passed into oblivion! — and yet, up to the year 1776, he had, doubtless, contributed more than any one man, except Thomas Paine, to the political emancipation, so far as the press could effect it, of the American people. The ’Farmer’s Letters’ had been reprinted in London with a preface by Dr. Franklin; they had been translated into French, and they had been more widely read in America than any patriotic pamphlet, excepting only the ’Common Sense’ of Paine. Now their author is forgotten — except through the college he founded — because he shrunk at the last moment before the storm he had aroused. Who can deny the attribute of moral courage to the man who stood up in the Continental Congress to argue against independence? But John Adams reports that Dickinson’s mother used to say to him: ’Johnny, you will be hanged; your estate will be forfeited or confiscated; you will leave your excellent wife a widow,’ and so on; and Adams admits that if his wife and mother had held such language, it would have made him miserable at least. And it was under this restraining influence, so unlike the fearless counsels of Abby Adams, that Dickinson rose on that first of July, and spoke thus:

’I value the love of my country as I ought, but I value my country more; and I desire this illustrious assembly to witness the integrity, if not the policy, of my conduct. The first campaign will be decisive of the controversy. The Declaration will not strengthen us by one man, or by the least supply, while it may expose our soldiers to additional cruelties and outrages. Without some prelusory trials of our strength, we ought not to commit our Country upon an alternative, where to recede would be infamy, and to persist might be destruction.

’No instance is recollected of a people without a battle fought, or an ally gained, abrogating forever their connection with a warlike commercial empire. It might unite the different parties in Great Britain against us, and it might create disunion among ourselves.

’With other powers, it would rather injure than avail us. Foreign aid will not be obtained but by our actions in the field, which are the only evidences of our union and vigor that will be respected. In the war between the United Provinces and Spain, France and England assisted the provinces before they declared themselves independent; if it is the interest of any European kingdom to aid us, we shall be aided without such a declaration; if it is not,we shall not be aided with it. Before such an irrevocable step shall be taken, we ought to know the disposition of the great powers, and how far they will permit one or more of them to interfere. The erection of an independent empire on this continent is a phenomenon in the world; its effects will be immense, and may vibrate round the globe. How they may affect, or be supposed to affect, old establishments, is not ascertained. It is singularly, disrespectful to France to make the Declaration before her sense is known, as we have sent an agent expressly to inquire whether such a Declaration would be acceptable to her, and we have reason to believe he is now arrived at the Court of Versailles. The measure ought to be delayed till the common interests shall in the best manner be consulted by common consent. Besides, the door to accommodation with Great Britain ought not to be shut, until we know what terms can be obtained from some competent power. Thus to break with her before we have compacted with another, is to make experiments on the lives and liberties of my countrymen, which I would sooner die than agree to make. At best, it is to throw us into the hands of some other power and to lie at mercy, for we shall have passed the river that is never to be repassed. We ought to retain the Declaration and remain masters of our own fame and fate.’[6]

These were the opinions of the ’Pennsylvania Farmer’ as condensed by Bancroft from Mr. Dickinson’s own report, no words being employed but those of the orator. In the field, some of the bravest men were filled with similar anxieties. It was thus that the new Adjutant-General, Joseph Reed, described the military situation:

’With an army of force before, and a secret one behind, we stand on a point of land with six thousand old troops, if a year’s service of about half can entitle them to this name, and about fifteen hundred raw levies of the province, many disaffected and more doubtful; every man, from the general to the private, acquainted with our true situation, is exceedingly discouraged. Had I known the true posture of affairs, no consideration would have tempted me to take part in this scene; and this sentiment is universal.’

This statement was not laid before the Congress, to be sure, but one from General Washington, conveying essentially the same facts, was read at the opening of that day’s session. In spite of this mournful beginning, and notwithstanding the arguments of Mr. Dickinson, the opinions of the majority in Congress proved to be clear and strong; and the pressure from their constituencies was yet stronger. Nearly every colony had already taken separate action toward independence, and, on that first day of July, the Continental Congress adopted, in committee, the first resolution offered by the Virginia delegates. There were nine colonies in the affirmative, Pennsylvania and South Carolina voting in the negative, the latter unanimously, Delaware being divided, and New York not voting, the delegates from that colony favoring the measure, but having as yet no instructions. When the resolutions came up for final action, in convention, the next day, the state of things had changed. Dickinson and Morris of Pennsylvania had absented themselves and left an affirmative majority in the delegation; Caesar Rodney had returned from an absence and broughtDelaware into line; and South Carolina, though still disapproving the resolutions, joined in the vote for the sake of unanimity, as had been half promised by Edward Rutledge, the day before. Thus, twelve colonies united in the momentous action; and New York, though not voting, yet indorsed it through a State convention within a week. The best outburst of contemporary feeling over the great event is to be found in a letter by John Adams, to his wife, dated July 3, 1776. He writes as follows:

’Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men.  When I look back to 1761, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting and distresses yet more dreadful. But I submit all my hopes and fears to an over ruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe. ’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, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.

’You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory; I can see that the end is worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.’[7]

John Adams was mistaken in one prediction. It is the Fourth of July, not the Second, which has been accepted by Americans as ’the most memorable epocha.’ This is one of the many illustrations of the fact that words as well as deeds are needful, since a great act may seem incomplete until it has been put into a fitting form of words. It was the vote of July 2d that changed the thirteen colonies into independent States; the Declaration of Independence only promulgated the fact and assigned its reasons. Had this great proclamation turned out to be a confused or ill-written document, it would never have eclipsed in fame the original Resolution, which certainly had no such weak side. But this danger was well averted, for the Declaration was to be drawn up by Jefferson, unsurpassed in his time for power of expression. He accordingly framed it; Franklin and Adams suggested a few verbal amendments; Sherman and Livingston had none to offer; and the document stood ready to be reported to the Congress.

Some of those who throng to Philadelphia, this summer, may feel an interest in knowing that the li title-deed of our liberties,” as Webster called it, was written in “a new brick-house out in the fields” — a house still standing, at the southwest corner of Market and Seventh streets, less than a quarter of a mile from Independence Square. Jefferson had there rented a parlor and bedroom, ready furnished, on the second floor, for thirty-five shillings a week; and he wrote the Declaration in this parlor, upon  a little writing-desk, three inches high, which still exists. In that modest room we may fancy Franklin and Adams listening critically, Sherman and Livingston approvingly, to what was for them, simply the report of a committee. Jefferson had written it, we are told, without the aid of a single hook ; he was merely putting into more systematic form a series of points long familiar; and Parton may be right in the opinion that the writer was not conscious of course on the varieties of English style, in which he urges upon her a careful reading of Rollin’s “Belles Lettres,” and the Epistles of Pliny the Younger. Yet any one who has ever taken part in difficult or dangerous actions can understand the immense relief derived from that half hour’s relapse into “the still air of delightful studies.” And it any very strenuous exercise of his faculties, or of any very eminent service done.

Nothing is so difficult as to transport ourselves to the actual mood of mind in which great historic acts were performed, or in which their actors habitually dwelt. Thus, on the seventh day of that July, John Adams wrote to his wife a description of the condition of our army, so thrilling and harrowing that it was, as he says, ‘enough to fill a humane mind with horror.’ We fancy him spending that day in sackcloth and ashes; but there follows on the same page another letter, written to the same wife on the same day, — a long letter devoted solely to a crisis probable that Jefferson and his companions, even while discussing the tide-deed of our liberties, may have let their talk stray over a hundred collateral themes as remote from the immediate task as were Pliny and Rollin.

During three days — the second, third, and fourth of July — the Declaration was debated in the Congress. The most vivid historic glimpse of that debate is in Franklin’s consolatory anecdote, told to Jefferson, touching John Thompson, the hatter. The amendments adopted by Congress have always been accounted as improvements, because tending in the direction of conciseness and simplicity; though the loss of that stem condemnation of the slave trade — ‘a piratical warfare against human nature itself’ — has always been regretted. The amended document was finally adopted, like the Virginia resolution, by the vote of twelve colonies, New York still abstaining. If Thomas McKean’s reminiscences, at eighty, can be trusted, it cost another effort to secure this strong vote, and Caesar Rodney had again to be sent for, to secure the Delaware delegation. McKean says, in a letter written in 1814 to John Adams : ‘I sent an express for Caesar Rodney to Dover, in the county of Kent, in Delaware, at my private expense, whom I met at the Statehouse door on the 4th of July, in his boots; he resided eighty miles from the city, and just arrived as Congress met.’ Jefferson has, however, thrown much doubt over these octogenarian recollections by McKean, and thinks that he confounded the different votes together. There is little doubt that this hurried night-ride by Rodney was in preparation for the Second of July, not the Fourth; and that the vote on the Fourth went quietly through.

But the Declaration, being adopted, was next to be signed; and here again we come upon an equally hopeless contradiction in testimony. This same Thomas McKean wrote in 18 14 to ex-President Adams, speaking of the Declaration of Independence, ‘No man signed it on that day,’[8]  — namely, July 4, 1776. Jefferson, on the other hand, writing some years later, thought that Mr. McKean’s memory had deceived him, Jefferson himself asserting, from his early notes, that ‘The Declaration was reported by the Committee, agreed to by the House, and signed by every member present, except Mr. Dickinson.’[9] But Jefferson, who was also an octogenarian, seems to have forgotten the subsequent signing of the Declaration parchment, until it was recalled to his memory, as he states, a few years later.[10] If there was a previous signing of a written document, the manuscript itself has long since disappeared; and the accepted historic opinion is that both these venerable witnesses were mistaken; that the original Declaration was signed only by the President and Secretary, John

Hancock and Charles Thompson; and that the general signing of the parchment copy took place on August 2d.[11] It is probable, at least, that fifty-four of the fifty-six names were appended on that day; and that it was afterward signed by Thornton, of New Hampshire, who was not then a member, and by McKean, who was then temporarily absent Jefferson used to relate,” with much merriment,” says Parton, that the final signing of the Declaration was hastened by a very trivial circumstance. Near the hall was a large stable, whence the flies issued in legions. Gentlemen were in those days peculiarly sensitive to such discomforts by reason of silk stockings; and when this annoyance, superadded to the summer heat of Philadelphia, had become intolerable, they hastened to bring the business to a conclusion. This may equally well refer, however, to the original vote; flies are flies, whether in July or August.

American tradition has clung to the phrases assigned to the different participants in this scene: John Hancock’s commentary on his own bold handwriting, ‘There, John Bull may read my name without spectacles;’ Franklin’s, ‘We must hang together, or else, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately;’ and the heavy Harrison’s remark to the slender Elbridge Gerry, that, in that event, Gerry would be kicking in the air long after his own fate would be settled. These things may or may not have been said; but it gives a more human interest to the event, when we know that they were even attributed. What we long to know is, that the great acts of history were done by men like ourselves, and not by dignified machines.

Even those who look with the greatest pride and hope upon the present and future of this nation, must admit that the Continental Congress contained in 1776 a remarkably large proportion of able and eminent men. The three most eminent delegations, naturally, were from what were then the three leading States — Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Virginia contributed Thomas Jefferson, who framed the Declaration; Richard Henry Lee, whose resolutions preceded it; Francis Lightfoot Lee, his brother; Wythe and Braxton, who had stood ‘by Patrick Henry in the old House of Burgesses; Nelson, who had first proposed organizing the Colonial militia of Virginia, and who later, as a general in the field, bombarded his own house at Yorktown, and Harrison, afterward the father of a President. Massachusetts sent Hancock; the President of the Congress; Samuel Adams, who shared with Hancock the honor of being excepted from a royal pardon; John Adams, ‘our Colossus on the floor;’ Elbridge Gerry, afterward Commissioner to France and Vice-President of the United States, and Robert Treat Paine, who had acted as public prosecutor after the Boston massacre. Pennsylvania contributed Dr. Franklin, ‘the Genius of the Day and the patron of American Liberty;’ Robert Morris, ‘the financier of the Revolution,’ by whose sole credit the Continental army was sustained in its closing campaign, and who was afterward a prisoner for debt; Morton, who had been a member of the ‘Stamp Act Congress;’ Ross, the mediator between the Colonists and the Indians; Dr. Rush, renowned for science and for humanity; Clymer, soldier, student, writer, and prison reformer; the Irish-born Taylor and Smith, and the Scotch Wilson.

Yet the other Colonies were represented by delegations hardly less eminent New York sent Livingston, of ‘Livingston’s Manor,’ the correspondent of Edmund Burke, and one of the framers of the ‘Address to the People of Great Britain’ in the first Continental Congress; Lewis, the Welsh merchant, to whom the British Government had given five thousand acres of land for his services in the French and Indian war; Floyd, who, during the greater part of the Revolution, was an exile from his home, leaving it in the hands of the British; and Morris, afterward succeeded in Congress by his more famous brother, Gouverneur. New Jersey sent Hopkinson, lawyer, wit, and poet — the author of ‘The Battle of the Kegs;’ Dr. Witnerspoon, the Scotch clergyman, President of Princeton College; Stockton, a patriot, and the ancestor of patriots; Clarke, known as ‘The Poor Man’s Counselor,’ though not a lawyer, and ‘honest John Hart.’ New Hampshire had chosen Dr. Bartlett, the first to sign the parchment roll; Dr. Thornton, who succeeded Governor Wentworth, and became acting-Governor of New Hampshire; and Whipple, who rose from a cabin-boy to be a general, commanding with Stark at Bennington, and under Gates at Saratoga. Connecticut sent Roger Sherman, shoemaker, lawyer, and judge, who had studied while working at his bench, and had become a profound lawyer on borrowed law-books; Huntington, afterward President of Congress, and Wolcott, who defended the Connecticut coast against Tryon, and, later, made peace with the Six Nations. Rhode Island sent Hopkins, who had introduced a bill into the Rhode Island Assembly to abolish slave importation, and had at the same time emancipated his own slaves; and Ellery, whose house was burned by the British army as soon as it took possession of the island. Delaware had elected Rodney, who rode eighty miles, as already stated, to be present at the vote for independence; Reed, who had roused his colony to contribute for the sufferers by the Boston Port Bill, and McKean, the only man who served in Congress through the whole Revolutionary War. The South Carolina delegates, forming at first the only delegation which had united in opposing independence, were equally united in finally approving and practically sustaining it, Middleton losing his fortune in the cause, Hayward being scarred for life by a gunshot wound, and both, with Rutledge, being imprisoned for a year at St. Augustine by the British; while young Thomas Lynch, who had come from the London Temple to espouse his country’s cause, escaped the dangers of war only to be lost at sea at thirty. These were all natives of the colony from which they came; but North Carolina and Georgia were honorably represented by what we should now call ‘carpet-baggers.’ North Carolina sent Hooper, a Massachusetts man, who had studied law under James Otis; Hewes, the New Jersey Quaker, and Penn, the Virginian, who afterward rallied the mountaineers of his adopted State against Cornwallis. Georgia, again, sent the Virginian, Walton, who had learned to read by the light of pine-knots when a carpenter’s apprentice; the English Gwinnett, and Hall, of Connecticut, who at first came alone to the Congress, and was admitted to represent his district before the young colony had made up its mind. Finally, Maryland was represented by Chase, who, as judge upon the bench, afterward said to a timid sheriff doubtful about getting some rioters to jail, ‘Summon me, Mr. Sheriff, and I’ll take ’em ;’ by Paca, who said, after his first session, that the Virginia gentlemen alone seemed able to carry on the Government, so that no one else was needed; Stone, one of the committee that afterward framed the Articles of Confederation, and Charles Carroll, who, lest some namesake should share his risks, added ‘of Carrollton’ to his name.

This is the story of the signing. Of the members who took part in that silent drama of 1776, some came to greatness in consequence, becoming Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Governors, Chief-Justices, or Judges; others came, in equally direct consequence, to poverty, flight, or imprisonment. ‘Hunted like a fox by the enemy;’ ‘a prisoner twenty-four hours without food,’ ‘not daring to remain two successive nights beneath one shelter,’ — these are the records we may find in the annals of the Revolution with respect to many a’ man who stood by John Hancock on that summer day to sign his name. It is a pleasure to think that not. one of them ever disgraced, publicly or conspicuously, the name he had written. Of the Rejoicings which, everywhere throughout the colonies, followed the signing, the tale has been often told. It has been told so often, if the truth must be confessed, that it is not now easy to distinguish the romance from the simple fact The local antiquarians of Philadelphia bid us dismiss forever from the record the picturesque old bell-ringer and his eager boy, waiting breathlessly to announce to the assembled thousands the final vote of Congress on the Declaration. The tale is declared to be a pure fiction, of which there exists not even a vocal tradition. The sessions of Congress were then secret, and there was no expectant crowd outside. It was not till the fifth of July that Congress sent out circulars announcing the Declaration; not till the sixth that it appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper; and not till the eighth that it was read by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall. It was read from an observatory there erected by the American Philosophical Society, seven years before, to observe the transit of Venus. The king’s arms over the door of the supreme court-room in Independence Hall were torn down by a Committee of the Volunteer ‘force called ‘associators’; these trophies were burned in the evening in the presence of a great crowd of citizens, and no doubt amid the joyful pealing of the old ‘Independence’ bell. There is also a tradition that on the afternoon of that day, or possibly a day or two earlier, there was a joyful private celebration of the great event, by Jefferson and others, at the garden-house of a country-seat in Frankford (near Philadelphia), then occupied by Dr. Enoch Edwards, a leading patriot of that time, It is certain that a portion of the signers of the Declaration met two years after, for a, cheery commemoration of their great achievement, in the Philadelphia City Tavern. The enjoyment of the occasion was enhanced by the recent deliverance of the city from the presence of General Howe, and by the contrast between this festival and that lately the British officers to him. A brief glimpse at the patriotic occasion, from the hitherto unpublished diaries of William Ellery, may well close this narrative. “On the glorious Fourth of July [1778], I celebrated in the City Tavern, with my brother delegates of Congress and. a number of other gentlemen, amounting, in the whole, to about eighty, the anniversary of Independency. The entertainment was elegant and well conducted. -There were four tables spread; two of them extended the whole length of the room, the other two crossed them at right angles. At the end of the room, opposite the upper table, was erected an Orchestra. At the lead of the upper table, and at the President’s right hand, stood a large baked pudding, in the center of which was planted a staff, on which was displayed a crimson flag, in the midst of which was this emblematic device: An eye, denoting Providence; a label, on which was inscribed, ‘An appeal to Heaven;’ a man with a drawn sword in his hand, and in the other the Declaration of Independency, and at his feet a scroll inscribed, ‘The declaratory acts.’ As soon as the dinner began, the music, consisting of clarionets, hautboys, French horns, violins, and bass viols, opened and continued making proper pauses, until it was finished. Then the toasts, followed by a discharge of field-pieces, were drank, and so the afternoon ended. In the evening there was a cold collation, and a brilliant exhibition of fire-works. The street was crowded with people during the exhibition. ‘What a strange vicissitude in human affairs! These, but a few years since colonies of Great Britain, are now free, sovereign, and independent States, and now celebrate the anniversary of their independence in the very city where, but a day or two before, General Howe exhibited his ridiculous Champhaitre.’

[1] Lee’s “Life of R.H. Lee,” i., 160

[2] Lossing, in Harper’s Magaine, iii, 153

[3] Bancroft (8vo edition), viii., 390.

[4] Frothingham’s Rise of the Republic, p. 618

[5]  Compare Works of John Adams, I, 228; iii, 58


[6] Bancroft (8vo edition), viii. 452.

[7] Familiar Letters of John Adams and his Wife; pp. 191 – 4.

[8]  “Works of John Adams,” x, 88.

[9]  “Works of Jefferson, “ i., 98.

[10] “Works of Jefferson,” i., 100.

[11] Bancroft, ix., 59; Frothingham, “Rise of the Republic,” 545.