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Declaring Independence: This year, the Declaration of Independence celebrates its 225th anniversary. But in 1776, no one was sure if it would ever be written. (American History Play).

Looking back today, the American Revolution may seem like a historical event that had to happen. But to colonists in 1775, independence from Britain was anything but certain.

When the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 1775, fighting had already broken out between British troops and colonists at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. But delegates to the Congress could not agree on declaring independence.

A rag-tag collection of colonists was battling the most powerful nation on Earth. Many thought the Americans had little chance of victory.

One group of delegates, led by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, were fiery supporters of independence. But others, including John Dickinson, believed that independence was rebellion and wanted no part of it.


Narrator A: June 7, 1776. A meeting of the Second Continental Congress is interrupted when Virginia's delegate, Richard Henry Lee, rushes in waving a sheet of paper.

Richard Henry Lee: Mr. President, I have returned from Virginia, which submits this resolution to Congress: "Resolved: 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."

John Adams: I second the proposal.

John Dickinson: Not so fast! Why should we declare independence from our beloved mother country?

Adams: Isn't it obvious? Our association with Great Britain has brought us nothing but crippling taxes and brutal repression of our rights.

Dickinson: Is there no better way to solve our disagreements than with treason and rebellion? How can you call yourself an Englishman?

Benjamin Franklin: We are not Englishmen. We are Americans now, and we must build a new nation.

Adams: Right! We are already at war with Britain. How can we not proclaim our independence?


Narrator B: June 10. The delegates still cannot agree on independence.

Dickinson: Mr. President, Pennsylvania asks that any vote for independence be unanimous.

Adams: What? No vote by this Congress will ever be unanimous.

John Hancock: Is there a motion?

Edward Rutledge: I move that the vote be postponed for three weeks.

Dickinson: On what grounds?

Rutledge: So that the delegates can go back to their colonies for instructions on how to vote.

Adams: And in the meantime, a committee should be formed to write a declaration of independence, should this Congress vote for it.

Samuel Chase: I don't see why we need such a declaration!

Narrator B: The usually silent Thomas Jefferson speaks up.

Thomas Jefferson: Why? To place before the world the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to make everyone agree.

Narrator B: A committee of five delegates is appointed. John Adams insists that Jefferson draft the declaration because he's the best writer in Congress.


Narrator C: On July 1, Congress again meets to decide on independence.

Dickinson: Gentlemen, we must not rush rashly to declare independence. First, we are caught in a war that we could well lose. Second, we do not even have a workable government. Should we destroy our only house before building a replacement?

Adams: We will not be destroying our house. No, a declaration will be the salvation of America. The colonies are ripe for independence!

Benjamin Harrison: Let us vote!

Narrator C: The Congress is badly divided. Eight colonies vote for independence. New York, waiting for instructions from its legislature on how to vote, abstains. Delaware's vote is divided. Pennsylvania and South Carolina vote no.

Rutledge: I move that the official vote be postponed until tomorrow!


Narrator D: Delegates wanting independence work frantically to change the vote. They pressure South Carolina's delegates to vote yes. They convince delegates Dickinson and Morris that people in Pennsylvania want independence. The two reluctantly agree to stay home the next day. And a messenger is sent to find Caesar Rodney, Delaware's third delegate, who favors independence.

Hancock: Congress will now vote on Virginia's resolution for independence. Mr. Secretary, call the roll.

Narrator D: Caesar Rodney rushes in, soaked from riding 90 miles in the rain.

Caesar Rodney: I'm here--and I vote yes for independence!

Narrator D: All the colonies vote for independence except New York, which again abstains.

Thomson: The count being twelve to none with one abstention, the resolution on independence is passed.

Narrator D: But Congress still has important work to do--to vote on Jefferson's draft of a declaration of independence.


Narrator E: For two days, delegates debate Jefferson's draft, which gives reasons for independence. The most heated debate centers on one passage.

Rutledge: Mr. President, would the secretary read the passage about King George waging cruel war?

Thomson: "He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere."

Rutledge: Jefferson, what does this mean?

Jefferson: It's about slavery and the slave trade, Mr. Rutledge.

Rutledge: To those of us in the South, slavery is a tradition, a way of life. Our economy depends on it!

Jefferson: Slavery must be abolished. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people shall be free!

Rutledge: Do you yourself not own slaves, Mr. Jefferson?

Jefferson: I have decided to free my slaves.

Rutledge: I hate to see you ruined financially.

Adams: There's more to this than money. Slavery is an offense against God!

Rutledge: You're a hypocrite, Mr. Adams. Isn't it Yankee sea captains who have kept the slave trade going? They're the ones getting rich trading Africans for molasses and rum!

Franklin: The slavery clause has to go, John.

Adams: If we give in, our children and our children's children will never forgive us.

Franklin: If our nation is divided, what difference will it make?

Adams: Jefferson, say something.

Jefferson: There's nothing more to say.

Narrator E: Jefferson goes to Thomson's desk and scratches out the passage.

Adams: There, Mr. Rutledge. You've got your slavery.


Narrator F: On July 4, Congress approves the final version of the Declaration of Independence and orders a parchment copy made. On August 2, the delegates meet to sign the declaration. John Hancock boldly signs his name in huge letters.

Hancock: There, so King George III can read it without his glasses! We're all traitors now!

Franklin: Hancock's right. If we don't hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately.

Harrison: Ha! I shall have a great advantage over you skinny ones. Because of the great weight of my body, I shall die in a few minutes. But the rest of you will hang an hour or two before you are dead!

Dickinson: I'm sorry, but I cannot in good conscience sign this document. I would rather forfeit [lose] popularity forever, than vote away the blood and happiness of my countrymen. But I will join the army to defend my country--even though I believe the fight is hopeless.


The 13 colonies were now the 13 United States. For the first time in recorded history, a people had chosen their own form of government. In the 225 years since that time, the Declaration's revolutionary ideas of equality and representative government have inspired popular rebellions against tyranny all over the world. Even in the U.S. today, we are still working to make Jefferson's ideal that "all men are created equal" a reality.


The Second Continental Congress:

Richard Henry Lee,


John Adams,


John Dickinson,


Benjamin Franklin,


John Hancock,

Massachusetts, President of the Congress

Edward Rutledge,

South Carolina

Samuel Chase,


Thomas Jefferson,


Benjamin Harrison,


Charles Thomson,

Secretary of the Congress

Caesar Rodney,


Narrators A-F

Road Trip

Americans will have a chance to see one of the few remaining copies of the Declaration of Independence. It first will visit four presidential libraries and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Then, it will begin a road trip across the U.S.
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Author:Miller, Amy
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 29, 2001
Previous Article:The Middle East: A region wracked by wars, sorrow, and lot of geographic misunderstanding. (Geography Smart).
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