On July 4, 1776, John Hancock led the Second Continental Congress in adopting the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. Today, we think of the Fourth of July as a day of fireworks, hot dogs, beer, and a group of middle-schoolers butchering "God Bless America" before a baseball game. On this July 4th, I want you to put all that aside and think about that day in the summer of 1776 when the whole wide world turned upside down.
Thomas Jefferson awoke on July 4, 1776, boiling as hot as the Philadelphia summer morning. He was still seething over the weeks the Congress had spent butchering his beloved document, revising the language and toning down the vitriol. Jefferson was angered most by the removal of the anti-slavery section, a move demanded by the southern delegations. This morning, he was still so angry that he barely touched the toast, eggs, and coffee prepared by his trusty slave Jupiter. Jefferson dressed, assisted by his able slave Caesar, before mounting his horse, with the help of his longtime slave Erasmus, for the ride to Congress, all the while wondering how a nation that condoned African servitude could survive.
Jefferson had barely rode two blocks when he was intercepted by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Elbridge Gerry. The four patriots stopped into a coffeehouse to prepare for the momentous day ahead of them. Adams spoke of disturbing news from the battlefield in New York where the war was going poorly for the Continental troops. Franklin regaled his comrades with the tale of his evening with a prostitute named Sweet Fanny, describing his signature move "the Franklin stove," a maneuver as vile as it was physically dangerous. Gerry then bemoaned the effect the war was having on the shipping business in his native Marblehead, Massachusetts. Jefferson then berated Gerry for the preponderance of slave ships that called the port home, telling him that true gentlemen avoided such commerce, preferring the laborious task of planting, as Jefferson did at Monticello (with minuscule assistance from the more than 300 slaves that worked the estate).
Finally, the four joined the rest of the Congress at the fortuitously named Independence Hall. John Hancock called the session to order, Charles Thomson called the roll, and Caesar Rodney gobbed on Thomas McKean's shoe buckle. John Adams stood and asked for a final vote, Edmund Rutledge seconded, John Witherspoon said a prayer, and Samuel Adams passed around a jug of his Summer Ale.
Hancock was the first to sign the document, writing his name ridiculously large so that "King George can read it without his spectacles, even if the Declaration is lying on Michigan Avenue and George is reading it from the top of the Me Building." Franklin steadied a nervous Thomas Lynch, saying "we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. Speaking of hanging together, who wants to take part in a gangbang at my place?" The signing continued as Samuel Adams passed around more of his homebrew, causing a drunken Francis Hopkinson to sign the Declaration as "Hugh G. Rection."
Those 56 men had begun the day as Englishmen and were ending it as Americans. This fact weighed heavily on each of them as they all stood in line at Franklin's place waiting to stick their liberty poles into Sweet Fanny. All of them except Jefferson. He only raped slaves.
I hope you will take two things from my story:
1.) I love America.
2.) Thomas Jefferson was an asshole.
Happy Independence Day.