Freedom Facts and Fictions

By Bob Hazard   |   July 5, 2018

Ask anyone why we celebrate the 4th of July holiday and the most frequent answer is that July 4 represents our nation’s birthday. This is only partially correct. 

On July 2, 1776 (not July 4), members of the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, voted to declare independence from Great Britain for the 13 colonies. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” A decade after the event, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all wrote that the Declaration was adopted on July 4.

Drafted by the brilliant Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and edited by Ben Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Rodger Sherman, the declaration was first celebrated in Philadelphia in a public parade on July 8. General George Washington, camped just outside of New York City with his army, heard the news on July 9, read the document aloud to the cheering crowd in front of City Hall, while hundreds of British naval ships occupied New York harbor.

Georgia got the news on August 10, but the British in London didn’t get the word until August 30. According to noted historian David McCullough, most delegates signed the document on August 2 when a clean copy was produced, one month after the July 2, 1776 date. Fifty-six delegates signed the declaration; eight did not. The names of the signers were not released until January 1777.

In July 1776, the population of the 13 American colonies was 2.5 million people, doing battle with 7 million residents in Great Britain and their Hessian mercenaries. 

The Myth of the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross

The ringing of the Liberty Bell when independence was declared is a myth concocted by children’s writer, George Lippard, in the middle of the 19th century. It is also highly questionable that Betsy Ross designed the first American flag. The Betsy Ross story was concocted in 1870 by her grandson. The U.S. flag was designed by Francis Hopkinson, who sent a bill for design to the Board of Admiralty in May 1780. The Betsy Ross and Liberty Bell stories were the first examples of “fake news,” leaked by the Daughters of the American Revolution to the press.

Birth of the Nation 

Three years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in December 1773, a band of Massachusetts agitators calling themselves “The Sons of Liberty” led by Samuel Adams, dressed like Mohawk Indians and threw 310 chests of tea off three British trade ships into Boston Harbor, protesting the Tea Act. In response, the British parliament passed the Intolerable Act. The “Intolerables” were the forerunners of today’s “Deplorables.”

Military hostilities began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, a year before the Continental Convention. The surrender of the British army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781, led to the end of the American Revolutionary War. The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, set our national boundaries as nearly all the lands east of the Mississippi and south of Canada, save for much of Florida ceded to Spain.

For 11 years after the signing the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. government remained on life support. The 13 colonies were unwilling to surrender governance to a central authority. In November 1777, a weak Continental Congress drew up Articles of Confederation granting Congress insufficient power to finance itself or enforce its resolutions. Ratified in 1781, the Articles of Incorporation did give the Congress the power to print devalued paper money, giving rise to the expression “not worth a continental damn,” a description still pertinent today, given our national debt of $21,184,742,000,000 (that would be $21 trillion and change).

Until 1787, each state operated as an independent country. A one-house Congress could not levy taxes. It had no authority to conduct war, regulate currency, or enforce its requests to the states for money or troops. There was no president and no judiciary. The treasury was empty; there was no way to pay war debts; and there was no national executive authority. We were not a nation in anything other than a name.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention 

In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, who was to become more famous as the subject of a smash Broadway musical show, called for a Constitutional Convention. In May 1787, under the enlightened leadership of George Washington, who had been at home managing his rheumatism and his Mount Vernon plantation, and the brilliant James Madison, delegates from the states convened in Philadelphia. 

There were 55 delegates, representing all states except Rhode Island, which refused to send representatives because it did not want a powerful central government interfering in its economic affairs. Eight of the 55 delegates had signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, 11 years previously. At 81, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate. Most were in their 30s or 40s. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were absent, serving as U.S. ambassadors in Europe.

Reporters and lobbyists were barred from the 1787 Constitutional Convention, but Madison kept detailed notes – which is probably why the delegates accomplished so much in 109 days. They agreed on three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial.

What emerged was a brilliant series of compromises. To balance large state versus small state power, Madison proposed a Senate with two representatives from each state, and a House, proportioned by population. The creation of the electoral college was a compromise developed to win the overall support of the necessary nine of 13 state approvals.

New York and Virginia, the two largest states, did not want to share their power with national politicians. Patrick Henry and George Mason of Virginia feared the power of a central government and insisted on adding a “Bill of Rights” guaranteeing individual liberties.

By September 1787, the Convention’s five-member “Committee of Style” consisting of James Madison (Virginia), Alexander Hamilton (New York), Samuel Johnston (Connecticut), Gouverneur Morris (New York) and Rufus King (Massachusetts), drafted the final text of the Constitution. On September 17, 1787, George Washington was the first to sign the document. Of the 55 delegates, a total of 39 signed immediately. A number of delegates had already left Philadelphia. In the end, only three delegates refused to sign the Constitution.

The Result

In the first census in U.S. history in 1790, none of the 13 colonies, except Virginia, had a population larger than the present population of Santa Barbara County at almost 450,000 residents. Pennsylvania led the pack with 434,000 residents, followed by Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina. The total U.S. population in 1790 was fewer than 4 million people, or 1/10th the number in California today.

In 1790, New York was the largest city in the country with a population of 33,130. That would be one-third the size of present-day Santa Barbara. The total population of New York City in 1790 would have only filled 1/3 of the seats in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

The next four largest cities in 1790 were Philadelphia at 28,520; Boston Town at 18,320; Charleston at 16,360 residents; and Baltimore Town at 13,503, followed by Salem Town, Massachusetts, at 7,921; Newport Town, Rhode Island, at 6,720; and Providence Town, Rhode Island, at 6,380 residents—all smaller than present-day Montecito at 8,965 residents.

Washington, D.C., in 1790 had a population of 3,200 residents, less than half the size of Montecito. It was not until after the end of the Civil War in 1865 that the population of Washington reached 100,000, the present-day size of the City of Santa Barbara. Too bad it didn’t stay that size or there would be fewer reasons to “drain the swamp.”

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 set elections for the President of the United States and the new Congress. The electoral college unanimously chose George Washington in 1789 as the new nation’s first president and John Adams as the first vice president. Both served for two terms before Adams became president.

For the next 231 years, the democracy crafted in 100 days in the summer of 1787 has been molded and modified, but remained as Abraham Lincoln promised at Gettysburg in 1863, “A new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equally…. and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


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