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Lessons from our Founding Fathers – The Declaration of Independence

Editor’s note: This column was originally set to run before Independence Day.

The Second Continental Congress began meeting in May of 1775. Made up of representatives of the 13 colonies, the congress was tasked with two main goals. First, create a Continental Army under the leadership of General George Washington. Second, they needed to craft a message to the colonists and the controlling British crown on what their intentions were, stating a case for their need for independence from Great Britain.

A five man committee was formed to draft the communication document. It consisted of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert Livingston of New York. Thomas Jefferson authored the first draft. Editing duties primarily fell with Adams and Franklin.  

As you can imagine, it was a challenge to craft a message that included all the injustices that had been taking place. It was led by taxation without representation, a common British act to fund their army in the colonies. The colonies felt they needed representation in Britain’s Parliament as the American colonies had become a powerful colony under British rule.

Thomas Jefferson was proudest of his messaging in the Preamble section that stated: “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.” The message was clear, they wished to form a government whose powers were granted by the people being governed. Americans rejected rule from entities across the Atlantic Ocean, the British, was not working and could not continue.

This was presented to the 2nd Continental Congress in June of 1776 in Philadelphia. Much like today in the Keweenaw, the area was in the grips of a summer heat wave. In a hot room, often with windows covered to provide secrecy from the British, delegates were presented with the first draft of our Declaration of Independence. There were still British supporters in the group, hence passages inferring the colonies would censure the people of England were removed. Another clause was struck from the original draft due to the objections from delegates from Georgia and South Carolina. The phrase was “reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa.”  This clause illustrated the struggle with slavery in this new country. The debate was active, amplified by the environment and differences between the colonies (future states).

Today we celebrate our Declaration of Independence. The representatives of the 13 colonies, each with their own identity, joined together under a shared mission, independence. They compromised, not demanding each of their points be adopted. This spirit of compromise to move forward was essential for our birth as a country.

Benjamin Franklin once stated: “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all others, charity.” Let us all remember the lessons from our founding fathers on Independence Day. It is more than independence and self-governance. It is also about compromise to achieve common goals, and how we treat each other in that common pursuit. I hope you all had a Happy Independence Day!

Dr. Steve Patchin is Superintendent of Hancock Public Schools. Programs he has contributed to creating include Mind Trekkers and CareerFEST, helping students explore their talents and associated careers in STEM. His research has focused on increasing development of self-efficacy in individual students.

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