Declaring it so…

As I have written in an earlier post, Benjamin Franklin seems to be everywhere in the colonial and revolutionary era. Franklin’s hands are all over the Declaration of Independence, though less in its writing and more in the timing of the “press release.” By 1776, Franklin has lifelong experience with the press, how it is read, and when it is best received. Therefore, after the Continental Congress votes to adopt the Declaration, it is Franklin who suggests – let’s officially do something about this two days hence – on a Thursday – so that the Friday papers get hold of the story. Why? Well, as Franklin pointed out, Friday is the most read day of the week. Modern politicians play a similar game, attempting to release stories during long weekends so the events are all but forgotten when people return to work.

In Franklin’s case, the plan was to make the document MORE talked about, not less. Never you mind that John Adams had thought July 2 would be the epochal day in the history of the Americas, or that it is not until probably August 2 that the Declaration gets signed “officially” with a “clean copy” produced by the secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson. The document itself is important, much more so than the provenance of the holiday, and should be read by Americans for a variety of reasons though.

Reading the document itself is a reminder to Americans as to the number of complaints colonists had regarding the mother country. While acknowledging that government was necessary to help preserve rights, the authors insisted that the government might also make mistakes and be held accountable for these mistakes.

I’ll offer a final point – the Declaration is one of those documents that had ripple effects through time. Variations on its ideals and sentiments show up across time and space – France, Flanders, Haiti, New Zealand, Texas, Liberia, Viet Nam – these places all made connections to the document as each declared their independence. This concept is explored in great detail in a fascinating book by David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History that is highly recommended reading – check it out!

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Filed under Teaching, Teaching and Learning History

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