Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Declaration of Independence Quiz

Who were the oldest and youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence? What states were they from? Why was Thomas Jefferson designated to write it? Which member of the Congress refused to sign the Declaration and why?

Ed Williams, editorial page editor of the Charlotte Observer, invites you to take a Declaration quiz.

It’s the kind of quiz we all wished for in school. Along with the questions, come the answers. Get you pencils ready. We’ll talk after the quiz.

Here's Williams:

Representatives of the 13 American colonies approved a document 231 years ago this Wednesday announcing the birth of a nation: the United States of America.

Test your knowledge about one of the most powerful documents ever written, the Declaration of Independence.

Q. When did the colonies break their ties to Britain?

In 1776, in a four-step process.

June 7: Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, presented a resolution that read in part: "Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

June 11: Congress postponed consideration of Lee's resolution and appointed a Committee of Five to draft a statement of the reasons for declaring independence: John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

July 2: Congress adopted the Lee Resolution and began considering the committee's declaration.

July 4: Congress approved the Declaration of Independence.

Q. Why was Jefferson the principal writer?

According to John Adams' account, Jefferson nominated Adams to write it. No, said Adams, it should be you: "Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise."

Q. Where did the ideas in the Declaration originate?

Jefferson maintained -- correctly -- that it contained nothing new in political thought. He was influenced by the 17th-century philosopher John Locke's ideas about liberty and the social contract and by the English Whig party's theories of government.

Q. Did the Declaration start the Revolutionary War?

No. The war had begun with the battles of Lexington and Concord, Mass., on April 19, 1775. By the summer of 1776 American patriots had taken control of every colony, expelled royal officials and created an army led by George Washington.

In August 1775, King George III declared his American subjects to be "engaged in open and avowed rebellion." An estimated 15 to 20 percent of colonists (called Tories) still supported the king.

Q. Five signers of the Declaration were taken prisoner by the British during the Revolution. What happened to them?

Four were captured while engaged in military actions against the British. They were treated as prisoners of war, not as traitors, and eventually released.

The other, Richard Stockton of New Jersey, was taken prisoner specifically because he had signed the Declaration. He was imprisoned in York City like a common criminal. He secured his release by recanting his signature and signing an oath of allegiance to George III.

Q. Who were the oldest and youngest of the 56 signers?

Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, 70, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, 26.

Q. What was Benjamin Franklin's remark after signing the declaration?

Noting that the signers were committing treason against King George, Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Q. Who was the only college president to sign the declaration?

John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister born in Scotland who was president of the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton. (Among his descendants is Reese Witherspoon, the actress.)

Q. One member of Congress would not sign the Declaration. Who, and why?

John Dickinson of Pennsylvania. He was hoping for reconciliation with Britain.
He thought his abstention would end his public life, but he later was elected president (governor) of Delaware, then president of Pennsylvania. In 1787 he was a delegate the federal convention that adopted the U.S. Constitution and was one of the signers of that document.

Well, I got everything right. How about you?

I hope many of you email this post to friends. Also, that you print and share it at picnics and band concerts today.

And if your going to a fireworks display tonight, you know there’s always that time when your sitting waiting for it to get dark enough to start the display. Williams’ quiz would be an interesting “conversation piece” to share with those around you while you wait.

We have a great country. Thanks go to Ed Williams for reminding and informing us of some of its history as we celebrate this Fourth of July.