History, History Column

James, John Quincy & the 4th of July


by ©2020 Sarah Becker

James, John Quincy & the 4th of July

In 1821 Mexico declared its independence from Spain; the American Colonization Society established the West African republic of Liberia, and Missouri was admitted as a slave state.  General Andrew Jackson was appointed governor of the Florida territory; New York’s Emma Willard started the first female collegiate-level school, and Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy published The Genius of Universal Emancipation.  President James Monroe (VA-DR) was again inaugurated President and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (MA-IR), John and Abigail Adams son delivered the Fourth of July address.  He “celebrated the anniversary of independence.”

“It is now rather more than forty-four years since we declared our independence, and thirty-seven since it was acknowledged,” President James Monroe said on March 5, 1821.  “The talents and virtues which were displayed in the great struggle were a sure presage of all that has since followed…[T]here is every reason to believe that our system will soon attain the highest degree of perfection of which human institutions are capable, and that the movement in all its branches will exhibit such a degree of order and harmony as to command the admiration and respect of the civilized world.”

“What sort of defence can Virginia make against our common Enemy?” Abigail Adams asked husband John in 1776.  “I am willing to allow the Colony great merit for having produced a Washington [but] I sometimes…think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Equaelly Strong in the Breasts of those…accustomed to depriv[ing] their fellow Creatures of theirs.”  The colonies Second Continental Congress appointed George Washington head of the Continental army on June 14, 1775.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court abolished slavery in 1783.  The Court claimed the decision was mandated by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights of 1780.  The Virginia Assembly approved George Mason’s Declaration of Rights in June 1776: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity, namely, the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….”

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to draft a declaration of independence.  On July 4, 1776, the war-related Declaration was accepted and copies were sent to the thirteen colonies for review.  The parchment original was agreed to and signed in Philadelphia on August 2, 1776.

“Until within a few days before that which we have again assembled to commemorate [July 4, 1776], our fathers, the people of this Union, had constituted a portion of the British nation; a nation, renowned in the arts and arms, who, from a small Island in the Atlantic ocean, had extended their dominion over considerable parts of every quarter of the globe,” Secretary of State John Quincy Adams said in 1821.

“Governed themselves by a race of kings, whose title to sovereignty had originally been founded on conquest, spell-bound, for a succession of ages, under that portentous system of despotism and of superstition which, in the name of the meek and humble Jesus, had been spread over the Christian world, the history of this nation had, for a period of seven hundred years, from the days of the conquest till our own, exhibited a conflict almost continued, between the oppressions of power and the claims of right,” Adams explained.  “In the theories of the crown and the mitre [bishops], man had no rights.  Neither the body nor the soul of the individual was his own…The British received their freedom, as a donation from their sovereigns.”

“Long before the Declaration of Independence, the great mass of people of America and of the people of Britain had become total strangers to each other,” Adams continued.  “The people of America were known to the people of Britain only by the transactions of trade; by shipments of lumber and flax-seed, indigo and tobacco.  They were known to the government only by half a dozen colonial agents, humble, and often spurned suitors at the feet of power, and by royal governors, minions of patronage, sent from the footstool of a throne beyond the seas, to rule a people of whom they knew nothing; as if an inhabitant of the moon should descend to give laws to the dwellers upon the earth.”

“[T]hen fifteen months after the blood of Lexington [April 19, 1775] and Bunker’s Hill [June 17, 1775]; after Falmouth [October 18, 1775], fired by British hands, was but heaps of ashes, after the ear of the adder [snake] had been turned to two successive supplications [petitions] to the throne…Then it was that the thirteen United Colonies of North America, by the delegates in congress assembled, exercising the first act of sovereignty by a right ever inherent in the people, but never restored to…declared themselves free and independent states,” Adams concluded.

“When in the Course of Human Events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” the Declaration of Independence began.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the Declaration declared.  “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it….”

“A Prince, whose character is marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” the Declaration continued.  “We have warned our [British brethren]…They have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.  We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

  “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved of all Allegiance to the British crown….,” the Declaration concluded.

The Declaration of Independence “was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government,” Adams argued.  “It was the cornerstone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe.  It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. From the day of this declaration the people of North America were no longer the fragment of a distant empire, imploring justice and mercy from an inexorable master in another hemisphere.  They were no longer children appealing in vain to the sympathies of a heartless mother; no longer subjects leaning upon the shattered columns of royal promises, and invoking the faith of parchment to secure their rights.  They were a nation, asserting as of right, and maintaining by war, its own existence.  A nation was born in a day.”  A nation saddled with slavery.

The United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, in Paris, on September 3, 1783, thus ending the Revolutionary War.  The Virginia General Assembly granted freedom to those black slaves who served in the Continental Army on October 7, 1783.

On July 4th let’s celebrate our freedom[s] with concern for our neighbors’ health.  Today’s invisible enemy, COVID-19 is not only distressing, it is highly transmissible.  The good news is?  Physical distancing, that is social distancing is less than an ocean’s width.  It is only 6’.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. 

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