History: Remember When The Founders Almost Voted Against Independence?


“We should always remember that a free Constitution of civil Government cannot be purchased at too dear a Rate; as there is nothing, on this Side the New Jerusalem of equal importance to Mankind.”

–John Adams, 1776

For americasfuture.orgChristian Corrigan writes: In the midst of commemorating our Nation’s birthday with fireworks and fellowship, many overlook the magnitude and uncertainty of the muggy days of early July 1776 in Philadelphia that fundamentally altered the course of human history.

“One can only imagine the fear, anxiety, and pressure that shrouded the delegates as the vote approached on the morning of July 2…”

Six months earlier, Thomas Paine had captivated the colonies with his powerful pamphlet Common Sense, assuring the colonists that independence was their natural right and calling them to arms.  But despite the growing fervor of their constituents in favor of separation, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were skeptical about the prospects of actually winning independence from the Crown.

Then on June 7 Richard Henry Lee of Virginia put forth a resolution: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from 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.”

However, although key delegates like Edward Rutledge of South Carolina and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania supported the idea of independence, they had strong reservations about its prudence.  Rutledge wrote to John Jay after debate commenced on June 8 that “[n]o reason could be assigned for pressing into this Measure, but the reason of every Madman.”  After all, George Washington had personally reported to the Congress in late May that the British Army, which was expected to descend upon New York any day, could be 30,000 strong, while Washington’s combat troops numbered only 7,000.  Even ardent supporters of independence like John Adams understood that the campaign for self-governance would be perilous and prolonged.

Historian David McCullough recounts the incredible, and still somewhat unknown, circumstances which surrounded the vote for independence after weeks of debate…(read more)

Americas Future Foundation

Christian B. Corrigan is an attorney working in law and public policy in Washington, D.C.

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