tv Declaration of Independence Global Legacy CSPAN August 26, 2019 2:00pm-3:32pm EDT
minds. c-span opened the doors to washington policymaking for all to see. bringing you unfiltered content from congress to beyond. a lot has changed in 40 years but today that big idea is marked relevant than ever. on television and online c-span it is your unfiltered view of government so you can make up your own meend. dr. bell has presented many outstanding programs for us on topics relating to early american history and the american revolutionary period over the course of the last several years. he received his phd from harvard university. he is associate professor of history at the university of maryland in college park. and he has been honored with more than half a dozen teaching awards add harvard and the university of maryland. the american society of 18th century studies bestowed its
innovative course award on the topic of ordinary lives in the american revolution. and his book "stolen," which tells the true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the north and smuggled into slavery in the deep south is being published in october. so thank you once again for joining us this evening. and without any further ado, please join me in welcoming dr. rick bell. >> all right, folks, thanks to heather and c-span for covering this. those of you might have heard me give other programs won't be surprised to hear my strange accept which is not exactly a maryland natives accent.
i born and raised in england yet find myself teaching about american revolution, which is a blessing and a curse in an under graduate classroom to teach with an accent like this. i'm very proud where i grew up. i often carry in my back pocket on occasions like this a giant british flag, which i might drape around the scenery for c-span to drink in. but i was also naturalized as a u.s. citizen a couple of years ago, something i'm incredibly proud of. and so it's wonderful to be part of the programming here as we move into the july 4th weekend. so when you hear me say our declaration as i go forward tonight, i'm talking about us americans, okay? the down side of c-span being here, unfortunately is that i don't get to swear. at least i will try not to. it also means i don't get to so you any cute videos of my kids or anything from hamilton the musical for copyright reasons.
but that still leaves us with a lot and i have to lot to say so let's get started. folks, the document on display in the national archives that we call the declaration of independence has lived an interesting life. it's only been on display in that massive bombproof building since 1952. before that, it lived in the library of congress. though for two years during world war ii it hunkered down in a deep vomit of fort knox in kentucky. before that it bounced back and forth, though during the centennial back in 1876 it did briefly return to philadelphia, the city of its birth. there a grandson of one of its original signers read it publicly as part of this country's 100th birthday celebrations.
and reports tell us that the massive crowd of people there that day burst into cheers at the sight of it. in its first 50 years it traveled much more frequently. when the british burned down washington, d.c. during the war of 1812 the document we think of as the declaration of independence was not there, it was hiding in leesburg, virginia. and you may know it spent the second half of the american revolution years earlier rolled up and stuffed in a linen bag as it accompanied congress from one temporary capitol city to another. but, folks, i have shocking news. the document that our government has gone to such lengths to preserve and protect over the centuries, that one, is not actually the declaration of independence. or at least that document is not the first declaration of
independence or the last declaration of independence. and it is far from being the only declaration of independence. the document on display at the national archives, the one this gentleman is peering at is in fact a special comemerative edition that congress ordered up at the end of july, 1776 to memorialize the independence tat the delegates have actually declared in a simple vote weeks earlier on july 2nd and who then formalized that vote in writing on july 4th. the document on display in the national archives is really a souvenir, a beautiful souvenir made after the fact. it was engrossed on parchment in the calligraphic hand of a junior named timothy matlack.
and was latered signed by 56 of the delegates to the continental congress including several who had not been present for the actual vote and at least one delegate who had voted against the delegation for independence. this is all interesting stuff. this is solid cocktail party trivia i'm giving you so far. but to borrow a word from the declaration itself that we use to describe the declaration all of what i've said so far is just my preamble. my talk tonight is not actually about this matlack parchment. instead of its about all the other declarations of independence, that the prominence of this lovely keepsake has obscured over the past 2 1/2 centuries. so i'm thinking here of jefferson's own drafts. we have seven copies in his handwriting. and of the final version approved by congress on july
4th, the one that was disseminated in print across america and across the world. i'm also thinking of several other sets of declarations, some that predate july 4th by several months, others that were written much more recently. some written here, others written far away. some written by propertied elite men like jefferson, others written by people who kpt be more different to him. putting all these declarations of independence into conversation with one another this evening, will i hope give us some fresh perspective on the famous matlack parchment that peeks out from behind bulletproof glass in the national rotunda. we can be reminded this mat pm lack parchment people go to see,
it honors something unambiguously momentous. it commemorates the creation, adoption and dissemination of a 1,310 word statement that foernged the american people in union, justified their rebellion, that asserted their independence and announced this country's appearance on the world stage. that famous statement, the declaration of independence, it is our midwife, it is our birth certificate, and it is our promise to ourselves. there is much to admire about it, and therefore much to discuss. and because i want to leave time for questions and comments, we need to get going. there's a founding moment in our history. declaring independence from great britain can seem to us today like this country's first date with destiny. but it didn't seem like that at
the time. and declaring independence, the decision to do it was a long, long time in coming. open rebellion was treason, remember. and in april 1775 when new england militias took potshots at the british army in lexington and concord in april 1775, the number of americans contemplating unambiguous revolution could probably still be counted on a couple of hands. when the second continental congress assembled in philadelphia in may 1775, the delegates to that second continental congress were under instructions from their colonial legislators to find a way to patch things up with britain. that's what they'd been sent to philadelphia to do, to patch things up. reconciliation and re-dress were
the order of the day. few at that point in may 1775 were thinking of using this congress for surrection against the monarchy or to use it to break from the empire upon which the columnists obviously depended for trade and security. in fact, it was actually king george iii who first declared it colonists independence for them. here's how he did it. on august 23rd, 1775, the king over in london issued a proclamation, the word of the king, saying that the caolonist had proceeded to open rebellion and because of that they were outside his protection and because of that they should be punished as traitors. that's august 17, 1775. and in december of that year the
british parliament acted on the king's proclamation and declared war on the colonists maritime commerce, beginning a series of stop and search raids on american merchant shipping up and down these coasts. now, britain's belligerence was one of several things that finally nudged the delegates in philadelphia toward their famous written declaration. another thing that numged them in that direction was the appearance of a pungent new politic political pamphlet. and it told readers that it was common sense for the colonists to respond to george's bullying by walking away and starting afresh. his cheap 46-page pam pamfphlet
sold like hot cakes and it changed people. it worked to bind people throughout the colonies into a common struggle giving southerns a common cause for new englanders for the first time and by laying the blame for all the chaos and trauma of the past ten years directly at one man's feet to king george iii. this plainspoken little pamphlet, it was a fact that readers across the colonies made pretty obvious over the following months. as the historian demonstrated in her brilliant 197 look american
scripture, thousands of local government officials in towns, counties and provincial legislators spent the months after "common sense" was sp published, spent the spring of 1976 issuing their own miniature declarations of independence. formal statements proclaiming their commitment to separate nation hood and summarizing the chain of events that have pushed them to make that decision. some of these local declaration of independence were short, and in your hand outs there's one short one paragraph version, an example from the town of ashby, massachusetts, by the way. but others were much longer. and there's one in your hands that runs several paragraphs from buckingham county, virginia. but all these local declarations said the same. in justifying their support for
independence, they came back again and again to the king's contempt for the colonist's petitions for reconciliation. they came back to the threats posed by the fleets and armies he'd already sent to repress and divide them. they came back again and again to the now escalating rumors that the british government had recently dispatched a large invading force of hessian mercenaries to the colonies. pauline mayer identified 90 of this state and local declarations of independence, and they were written to serve
all ties with britain. and they soon began getting attention as john adams one of those delegates in philadelphia observed on may 20th every post and every day rolls in upon us, independence like a torrent. they're writing to the delegates about independents and the delegates are starting to get the message. and it wasn't just john adams. other delegates too were starting to get this message from their own constituents june 7, 1776 this man introduced to the continental congress the first formal proposal for american independence in that body's history, a resolution to declare -- let's read it, to declare 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 to all political connection between them and the state of great britain ought to be finally dissolved. two days of intense debate followed richard henry lee's resolution, though the outcome of that debate may not be the result you are expecting. richard henry lee, john adams and other delegates in favor of independence didn't have the votes to carry the day. at least not yet. so the members did what congress has always done best. they kicked the can down the road. they delayed a final vote, and they agreed instead to setup a committee to study the issue. this is what they agreed, resolved that that first resolution be postponed to this
day three weeks or so from now. and that in the meantime lest any time should be lost in case the congress does somehow agree to that resolution, a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of the said first resolution. this is hardly the rousing nation birthing moment that patriots might have been hoping for. still, it was enough to keep things moving, to keep things moving forward. and john adams himself vowed to spend those next three weeks or so lobbying his fellow delegates to vote yes when the vote for independence finally came along. john adams also agreed to serve on this new committee, a five-person team tasked to draft a declaration of independence
that congress could quickly rollout in the event that lee's original revolutionary resolution did somehow later pass. if we ever vote yes we'll need to have a declaration to show people, so we better get cracking on it. so a committee of five. the other delegates assigned to this committee which by the way was not a plum assignment, there was probably some arm twisting involved, were benjamin franklin of pennsylvania, roger sherman of connecticut, robert livingston of new york and anyone remember the fifth member? maybe a picture will help. thomas jefferson of virginia. now, all of these guys, all of them were busy with other committee assignments. and so it made sense for just one of them to take the lead drafting the little document that they'd been tasked to
prepare. now, benjamin franklin, a gifted stylist and zealous supporter of independence by this time, he might seem to us like the obvious choice to be the lead draftsman. he was a good writer who believed in the cost, but he was also plagued by gout at this time, and he was exhausted. robert livingston -- this is robert livingston the fourth person across here. robert livingston was on the committee really just as the token conservative. he was not there to do actual work. he had been urging reconciliation. he'd been urging patching things up, not independence. and he was there to make sure things did want get too crazy and run out of hand. roger sherman, too, the guy in the middle was largely window dressing. now, sherman was a good man. john adams once described him as being as honest as an angel. but roger sherman spoke and
wrote like he was still in the 17th century. and his colleagues found him strange if not weird. that left john adams, the short lawyer who was an outspoken advocate for independence and thomas jefferson the tall sandy haired plantar who had a reputation as a writer but who had barely said a word on the congress floor so far. now, john adams later recalled these two men actually bickered and argued about which one of them shouldn't do the work and who the other person should be who should lead the drafting, who should be the lead draftman. and to reconstruct that exciting conversation we are going to do some theater live on c-span.
i'm going to call up two randomly selected volunteers. chuck, could you come around? catherine, could you come around? give them a round of applause as they come up. now, adams later wrote a reconstruction of the conversation, the bickering, the argument that supposedly happened between thomas jefferson -- say hello thomas jefferson. >> hello. >> why don't we move you around. you were right the first time, catherine. the conversation between thomas jefferson and john adams and if i'm remembering correctly the conversation began like this. >> will you write? >> i will not. >> you should write it. >> oh, no. >> well, why not?
you ought to do it. >> i will not. >> why? >> reason enough. >> what can be your reasons? >> reason one you are a virginian and a virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. reason two, i am obnoxious, suspect and unpopular. you are very much otherwise. reason three, you can write ten times better than i can. >> well, if you're decided, i will do as well as i can. >> very well. when you have drawn it up we will have a meeting. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> that took 30 minutes of
rehearsal before we got started. i want to thank chuck and catherine who were just marvelous. the rehearsal was for technical reasons. when jefferson was asked is that how it happened he said absolutely not. so jefferson's lead draftsman. the five men met a few times over the next few days to outline what exactly this document should cob tain but they left it to jefferson to write it up on his own. and he did as he was told. he wrote quickly, he used a portable writing desk he brought with him from virginia. and he had a first draft done within perhaps as few as two days. well, jefferson later claimed that he lent on no other sources while he was scribbling away for
those two days. still, jefferson was already deeply versed enlightened political philosophy, and that fact is evident in the draft he came up with. the draft he came up owes a considerable debt to several texts including england's 1689 declaration of rights, including john lock's second treaties of civil government published that same year, including thomas jefferson's own 1774 pamphlet, and his more repeat draft of a constitution for virginia and george mason's virginia declaration of rights, an early copy of which jefferson received just days earlier. the powerful opening lines of jefferson's draft drew directly from this well spring of ideas and language. though as you can see on-screen,
jefferson's language, jefferson's language was decidedly simpler and more forceful. so here's john locke saying -- let me give you two examples here. john locke, all tending the same way make the design visible to the people now look for the influence in jefferson's writing. but when a long train of abuses and use of patience pursuing invariably the same object of a design to reduce them and under absolute despotism, we can debate whether jefferson's is better than locke's and vice versa. george mason had written all men are created equally free and independent and have certain inherent natural rights of which
they cannot by any compact deprive or divest with the means of acquiring or investing property and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety and jefferson's version in his first draft reads we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable among which the preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. now, that's all i'm going to say for the moment about jefferson's famous opening paragraph. i will return to them a little later on. and for more on those philosophies that inform the first two paragraphs of the declaration, i recommend these wonderfully learned and sophisticated books if you want to learn more. i want to keep going because
instead i want us to think about his declaration's long middle section, the least quotable bit. the paragraphs that everyone skips over between the famous opening and the rousing conclusion. i'm talking about jefferson's list of grievances. they are hugely important because without the grievances there's no motive for the declaration. without a motive there's no declaration. so let's take a look. there were more than two dozen grievances in jefferson's draft and 27 will end up in the final version, by the way. the first roughly 12 all assail king george's abuses of executive power over the 12 years since the 1765 stamp act. the next ten or so grievances describe jormg's conspiracies
with parliament to use legislative powers to inflict even more damage over that same 12-year period. then come the final group of grievances, there's about five of them. they highlight the king's capacity for cruelty in the war that he has been waging against his own people over the previous 12 months. now, the tone of his long list of charges grows more and more urgent, belligerent and accusatory as it goes on and on. as if jefferson were a prosecution attorney making a closing argument in a murder trial. the verbs that jefferson uses in the first group of grievances, verbs like what have we got here? verbs like dissolved, refused, effected, those verbs are relatively even-tempered. but the verbs become much more
evocative in the last group of grievens. one of those grievances charges the king as having plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people. another raises the specter of those arriving, dispatched to complete it works of death, desolation and you can hear the pitch rising as we move through the list of grievances. one of those final charges in that long list deserves our particular attention for an extra moment. it's the cause for which jefferson denounces the king for seeking out native-american allies and for encouraging them to make war against the patriots. in the same charge jefferson also condemns king george for the actions taken by one of his
commanders, a man named dunnmore, the british general who famously promised freedom to any black men enslave bide patriot masters who were willing to desert their owners and that made jefferson furious. jefferson was channelling many patriots anxieties about the threats posed to their security by run away slaves and by warring native-americans. but to our modern ears there's still something distasteful here about the way he's reacting to his encouragements to slaves to free themselves, how angry it makes jefferson. and there's of course something willful about jefferson's refusal to acknowledge that decades of colonial incursions on native land are the true
source of tensions between patriots and natives. rather than acknowledge that truth jefferson's declaration portrays native-americans and i'm about to quote the historian, it portraysina native-americans as bloodthirsty barbarians too naive to know they're being duped by a tyrant. that tyrant is not the british people, not even the monarchy. it's 1 specific monarch. look at the way the crisp brief sentences in the middle section of his draft begin. they begin he has -- he has refused, he has forbidden, he has combined, he has incited.
the he is he. the he is george. george is rendered here not as a puppet of parliament or as a gaffe prone bumbler but rendered here instead as a villain whord enact who had enacted an intentional program of harm. this is george as richard iii, george as atilla the hun, to give readers someone to root against, someone to hate. given that goal, it should not surprise us to find that jefferson's list of grievances is full of hyperbole. he exaggerates. he guilds the lily. he tells readers that there were
swarms of tax collectors in the colonies when there were really just 50. he tells readers that tax collectors pose the same sort of threat as occupying soldiers, and that's hardly true. he blames american slavery and the slave trade on king george, a man who came to the throne 16 years earlier, not 160 years earlier. what i'm saying is simple, and i hope uncontroversial. what i'm saying is don't look to these list of grievances for just the facts. this is not journalism. this is not the list's job. the list's job is to be, to fire up readers, to give a story in john adam's words shall make
their ears to tingle. as a catalog of prosecutable crimes it's actually surprisingly vague. there's lots of emotion but not much detail. notice that jefferson includes no places, no dates in this list of injuries and use of patients and he names no other names except the king. as a result if you don't know your revolutionary history inside and out, you might not be able to place each of the king's alleged atrocities on a time line or know precisely what they refer to. but that abstraction is again intentional. it marks jefferson's efforts to universalize the colonist's dilemmas and frame the king's digressions in such a way they
could spark general outrage no matter where they're being read and no matter who is reading them. now, following his list of grievances jefferson's draft concludes. and it does so by insisting that despite these extraordinary provocations, the american colonists have been patient. they have been patient sufferers who have sought peace at every opportunity, in every stage of these oppressions, jefferson wrote, our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. it is king george's fault that things have come to this. independence is his doing, the colonists have no other choice. now, we know jefferson showed his draft to franklin and to addles. it's not reported whether he bothered to show it to livingston or roger sherman, but he did show it to franklin and
adams because as he later explained, they were the two members of whose judgment and amendments i wished most to have the benefit before presenting it. and both men, adams and franklin, read the jefferson draft carefully. but according to jefferson they thought it was genius. according to jefferson their alterations were two or three only and merely verbal. and he made their requested changes happily and the committee of five then submitted their combined work to congress on june 28th. this is collective portrait by turnbull of that moment, the committee of five turning in their draft, their homework to the larger congress. it's not the july 4th signing or anything like that, which didn't happen. but what it is them turning in their homework.
i just want to draw your attention for one hot second. look at that man's hand on his hip. once you see it, you really can't stop looking at it. he's very proud of his work. okay, and why not? now, delegates have three days to read over the draft the committee had turned in, and on july 3rd, delegates have three days to read over because on july 1st, the debate in congress finally began on richard henry lee's original resolution. that resolution was you'll recall that these united colonies and of right ought to be free and independent states. it will be several weelks since lee's june 7th legislation had been tabled and in the meantime there had been lots of arm twisting and lobbying. several colonial governments that had previously taken
reconciliationist positions like delaware and new jersey had since given their delegates permission to vote however they saw fit. other colonial legislators notably maryland had cept along strict instructions that their delegates in philadelphia must vote for independence. by july 1st most mens minds were made up, and news that a british fleet had just been sighted off the coast of new york only added to the momentum for independence. john dickinson, a brilliant lawyer from pennsylvania, did stand up and speak in opposition to independence. but he was answered point for point by another brill i want lawyer john adams. on the morning of july 2nd after some drama involving the delaware delegation, and i will
show you that clip if we had the rights but i can't. imagine in your head the music playing. after some drama involving the delegation on july 2nd they voted. several delegates voted no, though john dickinson himself stayed home. but the no votes were massively outnumbered, and the majority of delegates from every voting colony asserted their support for independence, and it was how many colonies that voted yes and how many voted no that mattered. this is good enough to be considered unanimous. congressman adopted lee's resolution and by the end of that momentous day july 2, 1776 a philadelphia newsprinter had the news, and he squeezed that news into the last free spot in his late addition.
the announcement into the philadelphia evening post, it was two lines long, this day the continental congress declared the united colonies free and independent states. that's it. you just witnessed history. now, congress had not yet touched the committee of fives draft of the public declaration, so they took up that task the following morning on july 3rd. to edit the draft the delegates ordered up a batch of printed copies of the committee's language. now, all of those copies, printed copiesf the committee's language must have been destroyed afterwards because none of those printed copies of the committee's draft survived today. then they started scribbling on those printed copies. they amped up some of the language describing the king's
crimes. but they struck out jefferson's lengthy rant about george and the slave trade. they added two new appeals to god because they thought the american people might like that. but they deleted most of jefferson's conclusion in favor of concluding language directly from richard henry lee's original june 7th resolution. the delegates worked for two days on all this and debated hundreds of changes, eventually making no less than 86 alterations, and ultimately scrapping almost one quarter of the committee of fives texts. the more changes they made, the more miserable jefferson got. now, franklin apparently tried to placate him, tell him to cheer up by telling him a story, a story about a hat maker.
a hat maker could come up with a great new idea for a sign to put outside his shop. the sign was supposed to read this. john thompson, hatter, makes themselves hats for ready money. but john thompson, the hat maker made the mistake of asking his friends for feedback. and those friends were not shy in giving to him. one suggested that hatter was redundant, bye-bye. as who else sells hats but a hatter? another had suggested that makes was irrelevant because customers only come into a shop to buy something, not to see how it's made. bye-bye. a third friend thought the phrase "for ready money" was
equally unnecessary. bye-bye. when they were finally finished editing they were left with this. that was franklin's story, it was supposed to cheer him up. whether it did or not goes unrecorded. but jefferson was certainly no fan of all the editors he had in congress. he called them his critics, and he did not mean that in a nice way. but like that hat maker's friends his editors in congress were actually doing good work. the draft of changes the delegates made rained in, tightened and focused some of the excessives of jefferson's drafts. among which appears no solitary fact to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest but all have
in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. that's the committee's draft. here's what the delegates finally end up, the history of present king of great britain is history of repeated injuries, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. as pallene mayer has put it, this is no hack editing job. the delegates had a splendid ear for language, they made it better. the result was to make sure a more powerful piece of writing. a quick question for you. why do you think they were in such a hurry to get a printed proclamation out following that vote on july 2nd? as i've written it up here, why do you think the delegates worked so hard and so quickly to
get this written declaration finished, signed off on and out the door? what's the hurry? raise your hand and tell me what you think. yes, sir? they wanted to go to the beach. i love this man. okay, yes, sir. they might have their eyes abroad. that's great, thank you. anyone else? fearful of their necks. so announcing they'd done something treasonous as quickly as possible was a good enough. okay, because they wanted enough people at their backs because someone's coming for them. thank you for that. is there another hand? >> maybe they wanted to do it while the getting was good, so to speak, while the public was with them. >> we've got the momentum. we don't know how long the public is with us so let's move this right along.
there's a giant pspotlight in m face. yell it out. the british are coming, the british are coming, right. is there one more hand at the back maybe? yes? oh, right, they want to get peoples signatures down quickly. perhaps that's a possibility as well. i like that. i'll take many of those. let me move on and try to answer at least part of this because i want to favor one of the arguments we've heard over the others. we tend to assume that the motive for all their hard work on this public statement was so that it could be promptly circulated to the american people, to up the stakes in the escalating military conflict, to give soldiers something to fight for. or perhaps it was aimed at king george, a retaliation, a very public retaliation for his previous contempt.
now, those explanations and most though not all the explanations you offered, the one about the beach is questionable. they're all compelling but i do not think that they're even half the story. in truth as one gentleman said, the delegates had their eyes on france. their new declaration of independence was their hail mary, their best hope of securing foreign assistance. they desperately needed to resume trading with europe. they urge wantly needed to borrow lots of money. they needed hard currency and boat loads of it. and they needed french soldiers, sailors and ships to join them in the fight to push the british back into the sea. to earn this critical foreign assistance the colonies had to prove to the world that they were rebels against the crown.
and the best way to do so, tom paine had argued in the pages of "common sense" back in january, the best way to prove to the world they were real rebels was to announce that fact in writing, in a manifesto that the delegates could dispatch to foreign courts setting forth the miseries we have endured and the peaceable methods we've ineffectually used to address, declaring at the same time not being able to live any longer happily or safely under the cruel disposition of the british court. we've been driven to the necessity of breaking off all connections with them. at the same time assuring all such courts of our peaceable disposition towards them and our desire entering into trade with them. every delegate who had voted on
july 2nd knew tom paine's arguments backwards and forwards. richard henry lee certainly did. and he wrote in april 1776 that no state in europe will either treat or trade with us so long as we consider ourselves subjects of great britain. we weren't going to make treaties, we won't trade with anyone in great britain if we are still subjects of great britain. indeed two months later when richard henry lee wrote his june 7th, resolutions, he didn't just propose independence he actually proposed two other things in the larger language. he also proposed to prepare and digest a former confederation and offered a third resolution to draw up a plan for forming foreign alliances. so in the same breath that we
say how about independence, we're saying how about foreign alliances. these two things are the same thought. seen in that context then, the declaration itself is a means to an end. and everyone end and everyone a the time understood this even if today we sometimes do not. on its own congress' proclamation could not make the colonies free and independent. maybe with france's help it could. this is why it was translated into french immediately. it's why they sent toppies addressed to king louis xvi four days later on july the 8th. it's why they had them pun lished in european newspapers, john adams drew up a list of talking points for negotiations with france within days. it's why congress dispatched
benjamin adams -- adams? why they dispatched benjamin franklin to paris later that fall. before we get to any other european capital, before we travel with the declaration over the sea let's pause for a moment longer in the american colonies, or should i say now the united states. congress proclaimed the official text of its declaration on mo mond monday, july 8th, 1776, as a printed poster known as a broadside prepared by john dunlap, their official printer. the perfect size to paste up everywhere and their type face was just large enough to be legible outdoors and easily read aloud in public settings. and so they were read aloud
outside these broad sides, these dunlap declarations. first in philadelphia that same day, july 8th, when colonel john nixon of philadelphia's committee of safety, read the declaration, read the printed broadside from a printed platform outside the state house. when nixon reached its conclusion, the gathered crowd erupted into repeated harrahs and members took down the king's coat of arms from the courtroom inside the state house and threw them onto a bonfire. the celebration continued on for hours afterwards as john adams remembered the city's bells rang all day and almost all night. congress ordered other copies of dunlap's broadside to be sent far and wide to committees of safety, councils and state assemblies with the request it be proclaimed in such a mode as
the people may be universally informed of it. over the following days these declarations, dozens and dozens of them, were read in churches, public squares and troops of the continental army. when one of these dunlap declarations was read in baltimore, just up the road from here, a band of jubilant patriots marked the occasion by dragging a dummy of our late king through the town in a cart and then setting it on fire in front of a large crowd. while only 25 copies of dunlap's broadside still survive today, historians believe he churned out more than 200 of them in the first july 8 printing and there were many other later printings and dozens of newspaper transcriptions of the text as well that summer. the london papers -- the london
papers printed the text of congress' declaration in the second week of august. and you might have expected it to cause uproar over there, but a calculated shrug might be more accurate. parliament was on summer recess and there was no immediate public reaction, not even a press release or the 18th century equivalent thereof. this strategy, i think, was to try to starve the colonists of attention, to deny the legitimacy of their declaration. and in so doing, refuse to recognize the rights of britain's enemies in france to interfere in the british empire's internal business. clever, right? in london at least the document only generated two public
rebuttals. one was by thomas hutchinson, the exiled former governor of massachusetts. the other was by a young lawyer named john lind who, it turns out, was secretly in the pay of the british government. lind published a pamphlet taking the american declaration to task point by point and, as you might imagine, it's a pretty fascinating read. lind wasn't much interested in the now famous opening paragraphs of the american declaration. all men are created equal, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. lind didn't care. of the preamp.mmble i have take little or no notice. none does it deserve. hubris much? i don't know. instead he focused his energy on trying to pick apart the list of 27 grievances in the final text. and doing that took lind a
while. congress' declaration was 1,310 words long. john lind's rebuttal to it was 130 pages. which is to say no one read it. and what about the rest of europe? copies of the declaration reached ireland, the dutch republic and spain by the end of august and then copenhagen and florence in early september. ironically given the delegates' focus on france, the declaration turned up there quite belatedly. the dunlap broadsides that congress had sent to silas dean, its representative in paris, they'd been lost in transit. and replacements didn't arrive until early november.
by then two french translations had appeared in the paris newspapers, but it's not certain if senior members of the french court had yet read them or acknowledged them. what is certain is when they did, the french were unimpressed. silas dean was under instructions to obtain as early as possible a public acknowledgement of the independency of the states from the king. no such acknowledgement was forthcoming. weeks passed, then months. the french court said nothing. john dickinson, the lawyer from pennsylvania, had predicted this would happen. back on july the 1st, dickinson had stood up to ridicule the notion that a written declaration would somehow be
sufficient on its own to convince foreign powers of our strength and unanimity. what rubbish he said in the speech. what rubbish. before taking sides, before wading in, the french would surely wait for us to start winning on a battlefield. the event of the military campaign, dickinson said, the event of the military campaign would be the best evidence of our strength not some piece of paper you guys write today. now dismissed at the time john dickinson proved to be prescient. as it was only when the continental army routed british forces at the battle of saratoga more than a year later in october of 1777 that france finally began the formal negotiations that would
culminate signed in february 1778. and it was only then when france finally got off the sidelines that britain's other european rivals agreed to do the same. the dutch republic and spain were the next to sign on to the war effort against the british. in so doing they recognized the united states as a free and independent country. after britain's defeat at yorktowne, britain, too, would have to do the same. and in article i of the treaty of paris signed in october 1783 to mark the end of the war and the coming of the peace, britain's peace commissioners grudgingly endorsed an agreement in which his majesty acknowledges the said united states to be free, sovereign, and independent states.
as i start to wrap up, i want to move past the dunlap broadsides and the newspaper transcriptions and the foreign language translations and turn now to another set of declarations that have been hiding in plain sight. i'm thinking here about all the subsequent declarations of independence, more than 100 of them, that rebels, separatists and state-makers have crafted in other parts of the world since 1776, in direct imitation of ours. that practice began quite quickly. by the time thomas jefferson and john adams passed away -- can someone raise their hand and tell me on what date and in what year john adams and thomas jefferson passed away. yes, sir.
july 4th, 1826, 50 years to the day since they finished their work. by the time thomas jefferson and john adams passed away on july 4th, 1826 people in flanders, haiti, colombia, venezuela, new grenada, perú, el salvador, nicaragua, costa rica, panama, in brazil, bolivia and uruguay had all written their own declarations of independence, all of them modeled on ours. we know, in fact, that american travelers in chile and mexico actually distributed translations of our declaration there in the years before the chileans and the mexicans liberated themselves. and multiple translations of
our declaration also made their way to colombia, venezuela and ecuador over the course of the 50-year period after 1776. a half century known to scholars as the age of revolutions. so you could call it the age of declarations, too. as the harvard historian david armitage has shown, and i'm drawing on his work here, that age of revolutions was just the first of four great waves of declaration making in global history since 1776. a second wave swept around the world in the immediate aftermath of the first and second -- first world war. between 1918 and 1939 declarations of independence were central features of the demands for self-determination, that mark the destruction of the ottoman empire, the romanov empire and habsburg empire. again, the debt to our own american declaration was obvious at every turn.
for instance, when the czech nationalist mazarik signed a declaration of independence of the mid european union in october 1918, he did so with ink from an ink well from philadelphia's independence hall. two more great waves of declaration making have remade our modern world since the end of world war ii, one began immediately at that war's end and maintained momentum for the next 30 years. historians regard those three decades from 1945 to 1975 as the golden age of decolonization, a tumultuous chaotic period in which some 70 new states, most of them former colonies of the british, french and portuguese
empires in africa and asia declared their independence and a fourth wave of declarations crashed ashore much more recently in the early 1990s following the collapse of the soviet union as one former soviet socialist republic after another regained its independence. now in 2019 the majority of the countries on this planet have their own declarations of independence, among them bangladesh, belgium, finland, ireland, israel, korea, liberia, malaysia, new zealand, the philippines, singapore, syria and taiwan. some of those declarations, like the republic of vietnam's 1945 declaration, quote our declaration word-for-word, as you can see on your handout which i've included that one. others simply express their debt
to our declaration with a bit more subtlety. in june of 1826, two weeks before he died, thomas jefferson wrote a letter to a friend in which he called america's 1776 declaration an instrument pregnant with the fate of the world. how right he turned out to be. over the past two and a half centuries peoples around the world have used jefferson's declaration, our declaration, as one of their weapons of choice to try to extinguish and obliterate empires. our declaration's pithy, pointed assertion of sovereignty and statehood is its most important global legacy and its significance can hardly be overstated. in our lifetimes, ladies and gentlemen, decolonization movements empowered by the original american declaration have continued to sweep this globe.
continuing to mark the unmistakable emergence of a world of states from the wreckage of a world of empires. here in the united states our declaration has spawned hundreds of american imitations, other declarations devoted to other causes that draw on the 1776 original to advance their own claims to freedom from other types of tyranny, the most famous of these is up on the screen, it's the declaration of rights and sentiments written by elizabeth katie stanton from the 1848 women's rights convention in seneca falls, new york, a document which holds that all men and women are created equal. and it goes on like that, replicating the language and moderating and adapting it throughout the entire document.
and it's not alone. really this is just the tip of the iceberg. there are many, many more american adaptations. in 1829 the utopian activist robert owen wrote a declaration of mental independence, designed to free americans from private property, from organized religion and the tyranny, ladies and gentlemen, of monogamous marriage. [ laughter ] the tyranny, ladies and gentlemen, of monogamous marriage. that same year, 1829, george henry evans authored the working man's declaration of independence, which did exactly what you think it did, the list goes on and on. if we skip forward in 1970 african-american church leaders published the black declaration of independence. here is a quick excerpt from it. the history of the treatment of black people in the united
states is a history having in direct object the establishment and maintenance of racist tyranny over its people. to prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world. the united states has evaded compliance to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for our children's education. the united states has caused us to be isolated in the most dilapidated and unhealthful sections of all cities. the united states has allowed election districts to be so gerrymandered that black people find the right to representation in the legislatures almost impossible of attainment. there are dozens and dozens of these alternative declarations and in 1976 the year of the buy bicentennial, by the way, historian phillip fona published a wonderful collection of these alternative declarations that i urge you to find and read. still, counting the number of times that americans have
adapted the entire 1776 text, that's hardly the only way we can measure the enduring value of our declaration on these shores. a great many more americans have drawn much more selectively on the text of that declaration, focusing in, of course, on its second paragraph, the one that that british lawyer had dismissively referred to as a worthless preamble. we hold these truths to be self-evident jefferson and the delegates had written there, that all men are created equal. now, to be clear, jefferson was referring to the equality of peoples, peoples plural, the american people and the british people, but most readers since then have taken him to mean that
all individual people are created equal. a wonderful, powerful misreading that is imparted to our modern world, a veritable golden rule for human rights, a credo that activists and rights seekers have invoked in almost every aspirational progressive advancement in our country's history. think about our declaration's role in the fight against slavery here in the united states. black americans, slave and free, heard in its ringing lines a call to arms. an invitation to turn its abstract claims about equality into vibrant reality by any means necessary. in 1829 the free black radical david walker concluded his famous appeal to the colored
citizens of the world by inviting white americans to compare your own language extracted from your declaration of independence with your behavior, with your cruelties, your murders inflicted by your cruel unmerciful fathers and by yourselves on our fathers and on us. frederick douglass drove the same point home in a famous speech in rochester, new york, on july 5th, 1852. what to the slave is the 4th of july, douglas asked. how can black men and women enjoy that hallowed day or appreciate its significance as the birthday of this country's political freedom when white people hold securely in bondage a seventh part of the inn lab inhabitants of your country.
what to the slave is the fourth of july? those are free black people i've been quoting. slave rebels themselves also understood our declaration's power. it was the ideals of our declaration, don't forget, that inspired nat turner to plan his 1831 virginia slave revolt for july 4th. white abolitionists, too, returned to the declaration time and again, finding in its famous lines a corollary to their own consciousness. as virginia's john cook put it in 1829, if those words meant that no one man is born with a natural right to control any other man, then a system of slavery in which men were born the subjects and indeed the property of others is profoundly wrong. no one did more to constitute our declaration as a beacon
towards which the people of the united states must hue than abraham lincoln, the great emancipator. the declaration was lincoln said our manifest destiny, constantly looked to, constantly labored for. the assertion that all men are created equal was of no practical use in effecting our separation from great britain, lincoln wrote in an 1857 essay denouncing the recent dred scott decision. those lines were placed in the declaration not for that, but for future use. its authors meant it to be a stumble block to all those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. when the war came, the civil war, lincoln stuck to that same line of argument.
when he came to gettysburg, pennsylvania, to dedicate the cemetery there for the union dead, the president noted that that decisive 1863 battle at gettysburg had taken place on that field on july the 4th. in his gettysburg address lincoln argues that the union triumph was nothing less than a vindication of the proposition that all men are created equal. the union dead, he said, had heeded the declaration's challenge, bringing to this nation under god a new birth of freedom. we survivors, lincoln said, must finish the work the declaration had started. in lincoln's hands the declaration becomes the living document that i think it remains today. a secular creed, a set of goals to be realized over time.
we can hear its echo in almost every call to expand freedom, equality and civil rights in this country ever since. the declaration's promise of equal rights was the touchstone for advocates of the 13th amendment that abolished slavery and the 14th amendment that guaranteed former slaves both citizenship and equal protection. the declaration's language and ideas -- whoa, what happened there? let's go back. the declaration's language and ideas reverberate through fdr's four freedoms speech about global human rights and the threat of totalitarianism in 1941. during martin luther king's march in washington king told crowds that our declaration was a promissory note to which every american was to fall heir. king's famous dream is actually the declaration's dream.
king's hopes are rooted in its famous second paragraph. i still have a dream, he said, i have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed. we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. we can find the language of the declaration in the public debate surrounding every single civil rights act ever passed in american history. here is president lyndon johnson -- sorry, it's such a big quote -- speaking at the signing ceremony for the 1964 civil rights act. a ceremony that took place not coincidentally on july the 2nd. the anniversary of the date when the constitutional congress had declared independence. this is lyndon johnson. 188 years ago a small band of valiant men began a long
struggle for freedom. they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor not only to found a nation, but to forge an ideal of freedom. not only for political independence but for personal liberty. not only to eliminate foreign rule but to establish the rule of justice in the affairs of men. we believe that all men are created equal, yet many are still denied equal treatment. we believe that all men have certain unalienable rights, yet still many americans do not enjoy those rights. we believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty, yet still millions are being deprived of those blessings not because of their own failures but because of the color of their skin. in our own time numerous activists including disability advocates, labor advocates, immigration advocates and gay marriage advocates have all invoked our declaration. even as they've sought constitutional remedies, usually via the 14th amendment.
while our declaration has never had the full force of law it has found its purpose as a means for rights seekers to seize the moral high ground. our declaration is the voice of idealism and humanity. it is what pricks our american conscience and reminds us what is right. it is what shames us and stirs us to lift our heads and do better. it is what pulls us forward. and there is a beautiful paradox in all of this, isn't there? this declaration of ours is an 18th century document, conceived, written and authorized by a group of white men of considerable privilege and power that has over time become a clarion call for everyone else, for african-americans, native americans, propertyless white men and women to claim equality as their birth right.
in fact, and this is where i'll stop, as the harvard political scientist danielle allen has explained, the declaration matters now because it helps us see that we cannot have freedom without equality. thanks very much indeed. [ applause ] >> we have time for a few minutes of comments and questions. if i call on you, please wait for the c-span mic to come to you so you can be picked up for posterity, meaning forever and ever. okay. lady right here. >> so my question is -- there may be some follow-up depending on your answer. so was there not an original
calligraphy copy of the declaration sent to england immediately after it had been signed or did it not get there until the dunlap broadsides? >> i'm not aware that there is an original calligraphic copy send to king george as a fancy f you. sorry, c-span. i tried really hard. so it's the dunlap broadside or something like it that is on that ship on july the 8th. the calligraphic thing that is in the rotunda now is ordered up at the end of july, it's engrossed which is the word for some dude writing it out in his fancy handwriting the end of july, the start of august and the signing of the name, the famous names at the bottom of the delegates begins on august 2nd, not july 2nd as it mistakenly says in your handouts, begins on august 2nd. and the signing does not all happen -- there aren't 56 people waiting to sign. there is whoever is in the building on august 2nd.
john hancock signs first and then there were drips and drabs. it takes them i think until the early months of 1777 to get all 56 signatures that you see today on to that document because people move around and some people hadn't even been elected to that congress on july 2nd, subsequently signed the calligraphy and we also know and you may know this, you may not, that there is actually a little sort of secret pattern to the order of the signatures. they are sort of grouped by geography. if i think i have this right we start with if i'm the declaration of independence -- oh, dear -- if john hancock has my knees, let's say then the georgia delegation is to your bottom left then we go from south to north until we end up with new hampshire in i think the bottom right. so there is a little sort of secret there. there is no secrets on the back of the declaration of independence like nicholas cage would tell you in "national treasure" but that is one little thing. i have a feeling you have a follow-up.
>> with the broadsides were the signers' names put on for -- >> only john hancock's name was printed not even he signed it. that's my understanding. >> so nobody knew who the other -- >> the gentleman down here is correcting me. >> and the secretary. >> and the secretary. his name was? [ inaudible ] >> i beg your pardon. >> charles thompson. >> charles thompson i'm told is the name. >> yes, i have two questions. number one is in light of the 1829-1830 statement i believe you mentioned john -- john lock i think. i forget the name of the person you mentioned. who was said that all men -- all people are created equal at that time. how can roger tanny have the audacity to say that slaves are
property. and my second question has to do with this, i always was under the impression that king george iii was not really an absolutist as most of us seem to think -- seem to think, but that parliament had a great deal of influence in what was going on. >> thank you. thank you for the two questions. the first one, i will just point out that one of the reasons roger tourney and other members of the supreme court can hand down opinions like the famous dred scott opinion from 1857 is that the declaration of independence has no force of law. it is our constitution, of course, which has the overriding force of law. in fact, interestingly, some judges even today confuse the two. there was a famous case -- i won't name the judge's name,
partly because i can't remember -- in 2013 when a judge in virginia in her opinion quoted the constitution's famous line that all men are created equal, which of course is not in the constitution. and as many generations of scholars will tell you the original 1787 constitution is at best ambivalent on the rights and liberties of black people and many scholars would say you can actually pin down 10 or 12 different pro-slavery provisions in the constitution, most famously the three-fifths compromise. so that's why tourney can do that in 1857. the second question was about the characterization of king george iii. i think you know where i'm going to go with this which is to say jefferson has an obvious reason to paint king george in the most
diabolical, authoritarian, all powerful terms he can. it serves his purpose. the truth is much more nuanced, the role of parliament as the gentleman suggests is much more developed than jefferson allows in his charges. or to put this another way, you can see the enduring effect of the declaration has been to demonize and stigmatize king george iii who of all his many faults was just a pretty straightforward random 18th century ruler, no better or worse than any king of england, no better or worse than many kings of europe at the time. not the all-powerful, scheming despot you see. but that impression endures. if any of you have seen the fantastic musical "hamilton," king george features in several songs and they are very funny, but he is depicted as a psychopath who to show his love in air quotes to the colonists will send a fully armed battalion to slaughter them all. that lingering image in the american imagination of king
george as a scheming all powerful tyrant is proof positive of the enduring influence of jefferson's characterization of him. we will take one more, i think. let's go to catherine down here. >> in the 1990s there were initiated american democratization groups sponsored by the u.s. government, the national democratic institute, the international republican institute that did training in europe to countries like hungary, et cetera, that were making the transition from dictatorship to democracy, also they had worked with the portuguese, et cetera. that was then. now what do you see as the direction in which -- including in our own country -- particularly in the u.s. where
the declaration does not have the force of law that there is a trend away from the -- or is there -- do you see a movement away from the equal rights, et cetera, that the declaration has laid out? >> yeah, it's hard to answer that with much specificity because it is such a broad question about the role of the declaration in our modern era. i would just say very simply that the constitution is not as bad now as i made it out to be in my previous answer. there are plenty of things we can look to in the constitution for protection of our liberties. after the original 1787 constitution was drafted to get it properly ratified required a promise of a bill of rights, for instance, which was added to the constitution. ten amendments in, i think, 1791. we often look to the bill of rights for modern day guarantees for our liberties and protections and so on. that continues in the american -- in the american political life today.
i'd also add that in every progressive advancement that bubbles up in 2019, and that will bubble up going forward, we will continue to find activists drawing on that well spring of ideas that we have a founding document, though it does not bear or carry the force of law which tells us that equality is important. i draw your attention again to this new book by danielle allen called "our declaration." it came out a couple years ago. it was on the previous slide. there it is. there it is. you notice the subtle book plug for my own book there. this book by danielle allen who teaches at harvard makes that exact point that for every example of people drawing on the declaration's promise of equality that we have seen so far we can hope and expect that there will be just as many people drawing on it as we go forward. if we use the declaration as our guide then i think the future is bright enough and i will stop there. thank you very much indeed.
all week we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. lectures in history, american artifacts, reel america, the civil war, oral histories, the presidency, and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span 3. in the wake of the recent shootings in el paso, texas, and dayton, ohio, the house judiciary committee will return early from a summer recess to mark up three gun violence prevention bills which include banning high capacity ammunition magazines, restricting firearms from those deemed by a court to be a risk to themselves and preventing individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from purchasing a gun.
live coverage begins wednesday, september 4th at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span and c-span.org. and if you are on the go, listen to our live coverage using the free c-span radio app. the house will be in order. >> for 40 years c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events from washington, d.c. and around the country. so you can make up your own mind. created by cable in 1979, c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. author james nolan looks at observations made by four notable foreign visitors to america during different periods of u.s. history. he focuses on their thoughts
regarding the relationship between individuality and conformity in america and considers the relevance of their analysis today. mr. nolan is the author of what they saw in america, alexis de tocqueville, max weber, g.k. chesterton and sayyid qutb. this is an hour. good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming out to be with us tonight. i'd also like to say hello to those who are watching the talk on c-span. my name is will randolph and i am a first year mcconnell scholar here at the university of louisville. it is an honor for me to serve for this mcconnell center program tonight. our guest this evening is dr. james nolan, the washington glad