Course of Human Events

Delegate Discussions: The Lee Resolution(s)

Delegate Discussions LogoIndependence, confederation, and foreign alliances. For months, these three elements were the talk of the Continental Congress. When Richard Henry Lee’s resolution was presented on June 7, 1776, it called for these three things, in this order:

  • 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 the State 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.

His resolution, or more accurately, his three resolutions were adapted from those of the Virginia Convention, agreed to on May 15: “Resolved, unanimously, That the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Governments for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.”

May 15 Resolution of the Virginia Convention
Minutes of the Virginia Convention, Library of Virginia 

The Journals of the Continental Congress show that these three resolutions occupied the debate on Saturday, June 8 and Monday, June 10. John Hancock even let George Washington know, “we have been two Days in a Committee of the Whole deliberating on three Capital Matters, the most important in their Nature of any that have yet been before us…” On the 10th, Congress resolved, “that the consideration of the first resolution be postponed to this day, three weeks, and in the mean while, that no time be lost, in case the Congress agrees thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of the said first resolution.” This pushed the discussion of independence to July 1.... Read more about Delegate Discussions: The Lee Resolution(s)

November Highlight: Charles Thomson

Research Highlights LogoCharles Thomson. He was the first and only Secretary of the Continental Congress. His name is on the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. The manuscript Journals of the Continental Congress are in his hand. He created the final, approved design for the Great Seal of the United States, still in use today. He was the “Sam. Adams of Phyladelphia.” And yet, his name carries a fraction of the recognition of Washington, Hancock, Jefferson, or Adams (neither John nor the original “Sam. Adams”). Thomson’s obscured legacy was partly his own doing, as he apparently destroyed the bulk of his papers concerning the American Revolution, and party because he spent the last third of his life removed from the political sphere. For this month’s Research Highlight, we selected ten interesting aspects of Thomson’s life and character.

Vignette of Charles Thomson in John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

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October Highlight: Abigail and John

Research Highlights LogoIn First Family: Abigail and John Adams, Joseph Ellis claims, “there were other prominent couples in the revolutionary era... But no other couple left a documentary record of their mutual thoughts and feelings even remotely comparable to Abigail and John’s.” The correspondence of Abigail and John Adams is fascinating and detailed, particularly during the two years when John was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. John writes candid impressions of major events, including the vote for independence, to his wife. Abigail in turn reports on not just the health and wellbeing of their children, but on major events in the Boston area, including the Battle of Bunker Hill and Boston’s first reading of the Declaration of Independence.

From late April 1775 through November 1777, Abigail and John spent upwards of 27 months apart, and their extensive correspondence is preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society. In previous blog posts, we have highlighted letters between John and Abigail from 1776 – “Remember the Ladies...” “Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light...” and others. For this month’s Research Highlight, we asked the editors of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society to share a few significant letters between John and Abigail Adams from 1775 and 1777. Hobson Woodward, Series Editor of the Adams Family Correspondence at the Adams Papers, picked the following four letters and shared the details that make these letters stand out among this couple’s vast correspondence.

Portrait of Abigail Adams, 1766Benjamin Blyth, Portrait of John Adams, 1766
Portraits of Abigail and John Adams by Benjamin Blyth, 1766

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A Conversation with Joseph M. Adelman

Joseph AdelmanConversations LogoJoseph M. Adelman is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusetts. He is currently at work on two book projects; the first focuses on the business of printing and circulation of political news between 1763 and 1789, and the second is a general history of the post office in America. He also serves as the Assistant Editor for Digital Initiatives at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Adelman talked to Emily Sneff about how printers in the 1770s assembled the news for their papers, how they used the postal system, and how they may have approached Twitter.

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September Highlight: The Declaration and the Constitution

Research Highlights LogoWhen the engrossed parchment copies of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were installed at the National Archives on December 15, 1952, President Harry S. Truman connected the two documents as follows:

“Everyone who holds office in the Federal Government or in the government of one of our States takes an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. I have taken such an oath many times, including two times when I took the special oath required of the President of the United States. This oath we take has a deep significance. Its simple words compress a lot of our history and a lot of our philosophy of government into one small space. In many countries men swear to be loyal to their king, or to their nation. Here we promise to uphold and defend a great document. This is because the document sets forth our idea of government. And beyond this, with the Declaration of Independence, it expresses our idea of man. We believe that man should be free. And these documents establish a system under which man can be free and set up a framework to protect and expand that freedom.”

For the majority of the history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have been invoked in this way. But what about the physical connections between the Declaration and the Constitution? September 17, 2017 marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, an event both similar to and quite different from the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In this month’s research highlight, we examine the preparation and signing of these two foundational documents, and the individuals involved in both.... Read more about September Highlight: The Declaration and the Constitution

Unsullied by Falsehood: The Present ---- of G---- B------

Unsullied by Falsehood LogoThe news and text of the Declaration of Independence reached England by mid-August 1776. In the newly United States, the text had been printed in over 30 newspapers in the span of a month. In Great Britain and Ireland, the Declaration was printed in still more newspapers, from London to Dublin, from Edinburgh to Canterbury. The majority of British newspaper printings of the Declaration of Independence look similar to the American printings. But some censored the text, even going so far as to change words or only excerpt certain portions. Examine how these choices change the meaning, and in many cases even shift the target, of the Declaration of Independence.... Read more about Unsullied by Falsehood: The Present ---- of G---- B------

August Highlight: Son of a Signer

Research Highlights LogoOn July 11th, 1776, John Quincy Adams turned 9 years old. On July 12th, he was inoculated for smallpox along with his mother Abigail and his siblings. And on July 13th, Abigail received her husband John’s letters with news of the Declaration of Independence. From this young age through his death in 1848, John Quincy Adams was deeply tied to the Declaration of Independence. He wasn’t just the son of John Adams, a member of the committee tasked with drafting the document and a signer. He was also a politician clearly inspired by the Declaration, and frequently tasked with discussing its importance. In this month’s Research Highlight, we belatedly celebrate John Quincy Adams’ 250th birthday with a look at the many connections between this Adams and the Declaration.... Read more about August Highlight: Son of a Signer

July Highlight: The First Anniversary

Research Highlights LogoHolidays and anniversaries can often sneak up on people. That seems to be the case in Philadelphia on the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1777.

In the defense of the Continental Congress, they were a bit busy. In that first year of independence, they had made what would be the first of several evacuations, meeting in Baltimore for several months while the British occupied Philadelphia. During their time in Baltimore, the Congress had commissioned the first printing of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of (nearly) all the signers.

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