Today in History: Congress Votes for Independence
On this day Jul 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia, formally adopts Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence from Great Britain. The vote is unanimous, with only New York abstaining.
In fact John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
The resolution had originally been presented to Congress on June 7, but it soon became clear that New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina were as yet unwilling to declare independence, though they would likely be ready to vote in favor of a break with England in due course. Thus, Congress agreed to delay the vote on Lees Resolution until July 1. In the intervening period, Congress appointed a committee to draft a formal Declaration of Independence. Its members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson, well-known to be the best writer of the group, was selected to be the primary author of the document, which was presented to Congress for review on June 28, 1776.
On July 1, 1776, debate on the Lee Resolution resumed as planned, with a majority of the delegates favoring the resolution. Congress thought it of the utmost importance that independence be unanimously proclaimed. To ensure this, they delayed the final vote until July 2, when 12 colonial delegations voted in favor of it, with the New York delegates abstaining, unsure of how their constituents would wish them to vote. John Adams wrote that July 2 would be celebrated as the most memorable epoch in the history of America. Instead, the day has been largely forgotten in favor of July 4, when Jeffersons edited Declaration of Independence was adopted.
Did you know? Almost every significant political figure of the American Revolution served in the Continental Congress, including Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Patrick Henry and George Washington.