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Read the Declaration of Independence yourself



The Fat Cats Declare Their Independence

He's got something to say!
Picture the fanciest clothes, the biggest houses, the fattest wallets, and all the best things in life anyone could ever want. Does this sound like the latest big movie, or a new music video? If you said yes, then you are absolutely WRONG. Actually, this describes the lives of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. These lively words on a plain piece of parchment comprised the first official document of the United States. For those of you who may not have paid attention in class, it is this document that gives us a reason to celebrate with barbeques and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

The years before the signing were explosive. The British were levying many taxes, mainly for the funding of the French and Indian War. The taxes were on popular products such as tea. One of the main complaints from the colonists was that they were being taxed by Great Britain without any representation in the British Parliament. The slogan uttered by many colonist of the time was "No taxation without representation". Colonists actually could participate in the parliament, however, considering the great distance between Britain and America, along with the forms of travel available at the time (horses and ships), it would have taken about 2 months just to go and vote. It's a chore for me to get up and drag my feet over to my closet, so this is one trip that I definately would have not been up for.

Kevin makes his mark
Well, in 1776, it would have been a trip I would have not been allowed to make at all! It was kind of eerie walking into the doors of Independence Hall- a place where I would have not been allowed into unless I was refilling someone's drinking glass. The signing of the Declaration of Independence contained all the diversity of a single grain of sand. The third line of the document reads "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights". Yet at the time, someone who looked like me would have not even been considered a whole person. Enslaved Africans at the time were considered to be property, similar to an animal or a house. These brilliant men were not smart enough to understand that enslaved Africans, women, and Indians were just as important as they were. Therefore every group should have had just as much representation at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They were committing the very crime they were accusing King George III of England of. Another line reads "We mutually pledge, to each other our lives, our fortunes, and sacred honor". What of those who had no fortunes? There were even other European-Americans who were poor servants without fortunes. These indentured servants and laborers took no stake in the signing of this very important document. Well, haha, to Sir Thomas Jefferson (the primary author of this document). I found my way into the signing room anyway.

Kevin w/Ranger McClenney
Not everyone felt that America was ready for the challenge and responsibility of true freedom. The top of this famous document enclosed in a glass case inside the museum gallery reads, "The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America." This was not entirely the case. Larry McClenney, a National Service Park Ranger (and wonderful guide) noted that not all prominent men from the colonies put their signature on the document. John Dickenson was a colonist who argued forcefully against the Declaration of Independence. Some felt that Britain was America's parent, and like a child who chooses to disobey her/his parent, something bad usually follows. John Dickenson was kind of an odd guy, however. Even though he strongly disagreed with the Declaration of Independence, he fought in the Revolutionary War! Mr. McClenney also said that the Declaraton of Independence was actually adopted or constructed on July 4, 1776, but it was not signed until August 2, 1776. Sounds like somebody owes us an extra holiday!

The place where history was made
The holiday that we do celebrate sprung from very humble beginnings. Walking through the doors of Independence Hall, I am surprised that the inside is not quite as exciting as the outside. The hallway is rather plain. Oh, but wait… I looked over to my left and saw the place where the first Supreme Court held trials. Yet one thing stuck out to me. In the middle of the courtroom floor was a half-sized cage with a strapped closing. Our super park ranger told me that that is where the person accused in the trial would stand until court was over. The saying "stand trail" is derived from this fact. So even if you didn't steal that apple (which is not a capitol offense) you still had to endure that particular form of punishment until you were cleared from blame - or at least your legs did. Ouch!

Ultimately, the Declaration of Independence is a valuable document, not just for its age but the ideas that it contains. Those ideas include the equality of all men, the right to pursue happiness in life, the necessity to maintain some type of order, with laws and representation dictated by the people instead of a powerful few. So sad and too bad that it was not exactly obeyed. This document helped to form the most powerful country in the world, but we have more work to do. A promise unfulfilled, or a word spoken in vain, is like trying to stop a flood with a bucket of water. Let us use this document in our everyday lives, to remember that we are all equal, and that we all are looking for the sweeter things: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Please email me at: kevin1@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - What They Did Was Treason!
Teddy - Did a snowball fight start the American Revolution?
Teddy - The first day of war is always the longest …
Making a Difference - Sometimes the wrong side of the law is the right place to be