Born by Declaration: How Thirteen United Colonies Became the United States

John Trumbull/Wikipedia
John Trumbull/Wikipedia

“I believe that if Breitbart were covering the Continental Congress, the Founder our readers would identify with would be John Adams,” Breitbart Senior West Coast Editor Rebecca Mansour said.

Speaking to SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon for the Breitbart News Daily Fourth of July Special, Mansour explained in dramatic detail the personalities and political tensions that led the Continental Congress to declare independence from the British crown.

She quoted the words of Richard Stockton, the delegate from New Jersey, who wrote that John Adams was “the man to whom the country is most indebted for the great measure of independency…. He it was who sustained the debate, and by the force of his reasoning demonstrated not only the justice, but the expediency of the measure.”

Mansour noted that Adams and the other members of the New England delegations to the Continental Congress were for liberty from the start because New England was already at war.

“Massachusetts was at war before all the other colonies. Boston was an occupied city. [John Adams’] wife Abigail Adams could hear the thunder of the bombardment of the Battle of Bunker Hill even from their house — their little farm — in Braintree, Massachusetts. So, this wasn’t just an intellectual discussion for John Adams. It was a matter of life and death.”

The real question, Mansour explained, was when to make a move for independence. “Everyone understood that the only way to proceed was to do it unanimously. It had to be a united effort in declaring independence. But there was no unanimity in 1775.”

The voices for independence — primarily New Englanders — were in the minority. Other factions included the Tories who opposed independence and others who were too cautious to take a position either way.

“But the clear leader of the opposition against independence was John Dickinson of Pennsylvania,” Mansour said, explaining how the Quaker pacifist Dickinson pushed for the Olive Branch Petition of July 8, 1775, which would again beseech King George III to restore peace.

Adams scoffed at the naiveté of this gesture.

“The very idea that they would send this groveling supplication to King George after what he did to them at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, it was just appalling to [Adams],” Mansour said. “He had seen the carnage the British had wrought in Massachusetts. He couldn’t believe anyone would be so naive to think that the British would go home and leave us in peace if we ask nicely. Adams would write: ‘Powder and artillery are the most efficacious, sure and infallible conciliatory measures we can adopt.’ In other words, lock and load, friends!”

The petition was ignored by the King, who instead declared the colonies in a state of rebellion and sent 17,000 hired German mercenaries to attack New York.

“By Spring of 1776, the idea of independence was already being sparked in the hearts and minds of the people,” Mansour said. “And it was helped in large part by a little pamphlet you might have heard of called Common Sense by Thomas Paine. And John Adams would later write, ‘The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.’ The people were the ones that led on this.”

More of the delegates were freed by their conventions back home to vote for independence, but the real turning point came when the Virginia delegation received instructions “to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”

“This was the moment the New Englanders were waiting for. Once Virginia got in the fight, it was on,” Mansour noted.

On Friday, June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia rose to speak, saying: “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of a 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.”

Adams immediately seconded the motion, and then the debate began. Dickinson’s faction demanded a “cooling off” period so that the voice of the people could be heard before the vote. Ultimately, it was agreed to delay the vote until July 1, so that delegates from the middle colonies could return home for further instructions.

In the meantime, a committee was assembled to draft a statement declaring independence should the vote move in that direction, and, of course, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was tasked with writing it.

Mansour dramatically recounted the events of the July 1 debate, as the gavel was sounded on that hot day in Philadelphia while a full-scale summer storm was brewing.

Rain pelted against the windows as John Dickinson rose one last time to argue against what he characterized as the “premature” separation from Britain.

“He spoke incredibly eloquently that day,” Mansour said. “He argued that to declare independence would be, in his words, ‘to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.’”

“By the time he sat down there was total silence except for the rain against the windows,” Mansour recounted. Everyone felt “the weight of the moment and of the decision. And then finally John Adams stood up to make the case for liberty.”

While thunder and lighting began to strike outside, Adams gave his argument, speaking logically and positively, though “mindful of the historic moment.”

“He talked about the birth of a great new nation. We don’t have his exact words because he never gave prepared remarks. But we know the sentiments from the words he wrote to a friend at that time,” Mansour said, reciting Adams’ letter:

“Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.”

Mansour explained that even though we have no transcription of his remarks, we have the recollections of the people who were there. Thomas Jefferson would write that Adams spoke that day “with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.”

The final vote was postponed until the next day, July 2. They were still persuading the final hold-outs and also waiting for Caesar Rodney of Delaware, a member of the independence faction, to arrive to swing the Delaware vote.

On July 2, all the pieces came together. Caesar Rodney made a dramatic entrance in the nick of time, having ridden 80 miles through the night to be in Philadelphia to cast a defining vote to swing the Delaware delegation to independence. South Carolina also finally joined the majority.

Recognizing the need for unanimity, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania voluntarily absented himself that day so that the Pennsylvania delegation would be able to vote with the majority without him.

The New York delegation, whose homes were currently facing threat of destruction, abstained from voting so that the vote would be unanimous in that no colony opposed it.

“So it was done. The break was made,” Mansour said and then recited the letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

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. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.

The next day, Congress debated the wording of the Declaration that Thomas Jefferson had drafted. “One final thing that they all agreed on was to add a phrase to Jefferson’s concluding line that would commend their entire endeavor to God’s protection,” Mansour said.

So, the ending would read: “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.”

Mansour concluded by saying: “That is how our country was born by Declaration. And I personally have to say, I don’t care where you come from, what you look like, or who your ancestors were, if you affirm that Declaration — if you today stand as our Founders did and bind yourself to those sentiments in that Declaration — then you are an American. You are part of the Spirit of 1776. And that’s the spirit that will sustain us, by the grace of God.”


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