THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD (3)
|Source||The Scotch-Irish in America (1915): Henry Jones Ford|
|Section||CHAPTER XVIII (3) Start of Section|
In 1776 Reed was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Both he and Thomson were classed as Moderates. While both were prominent Whigs, both were in favor of working with and through the Assembly. While the movement in favor of independence was advancing Reed was exerting his influence to bring the Assembly into accord. Congress was sitting in Philadelphia and the leaders were in close touch with the Pennsylvania situation. On June 7 Richard Henry Lee of Virginia moved in Congress his resolution for independence, and on June 8 the Pennsylvania delegation voted against it five to two. On June 14 the Assembly adopted cautiously worded resolutions, framed by a committee of which Reed was a member, which in effect rescinded the previous instructions and authorized the delegates to use their discretion in "adopting such other measures as shall be judged necessary." On July 2 the vote of Pennsylvania was recorded in favor of independence, the delegation standing three to two, two members absenting themselves to facilitate this result. As soon as Pennsylvania was committed to independence Reed rejoined Washington as his adjutant-general, to which position he was appointed by Congress on June 5, at Washington's request.
Charles Thomson, whose name frequently appears in the records of the times as a man of sound judgment and of great influence, is one of the most interesting characters of the period. He was born in Maghera, County Derry, Ireland, November 29, 1729. While on his way to America with his father and three brothers, the father died at sea. An elder brother already settled in America was the only person the boys could look to for aid. Charles attracted the attention of Dr. Francis Allison, who took him into his Academy at New London, Pa., and gave him such a good education that he became principal of the Friends' Academy at New Castle, Del. He had marked success as a teacher and also attracted notice through his writings upon public affairs. He took an active interest in the welfare of the Indians, and in 1756 the Delawares adopted him into their tribe bestowing upon him the name of "Man of Truth." A marked trait of Thomson's character was self-abnegation. While from the first active in the cause of American liberty he was interested in results rather than in his personal distinction and his activity was mainly behind the scenes. By a fortunate accident a letter of his has been preserved that gives a specimen of his address as a political tactician and a view of inside politics in the revolutionary period.
In 1774, when the news of the British port bill arrived, and Reed, Thomson and Mifflin were laying plans to commit Pennsylvania to joint action with the other colonies, it was deemed of supreme importance to secure the cooperation of John Dickinson, who was of Quaker stock and had great influence with that element of the population, which if no longer dominant was still weighty. It was therefore arranged to create an opportunity for Dickinson to appear in a moderate and conciliatory attitude. Thomson himself, in an account which he wrote in later years as an act of justice to Dickinson, says:
"It was agreed that his friend who was represented as a rash man should press for an immediate declaration in favor of Boston and get some of his friends to support him in the measure, that Mr. D—— should oppose and press for moderate measures, and thus by an apparent dispute prevent a farther opposition and carry the point agreed on."
Thomson himself took the part of "the rash man." A meeting of leading citizens was held in the City Tavern. Reed addressed the assembly "with temper, moderation, but in pathetic terms." Mifflin spoke next "with more warmth and fire."
Thomson then "pressed for an immediate declaration in favor of Boston and making common cause with her." The room was hot, Thomson had scarce slept an hour for two nights and he fainted and was carried into an adjoining room. Dickinson then addressed the company. As soon as Thomson recovered he returned to the meeting and took an active part in its proceedings. Upon his motion it was decided that a committee should be appointed to voice the sense of the meeting. Two sets of nominees were proposed but the matter was compromised by accepting them all as the committee. As a result of this management the movers in the business got all they desired. Thomson relates:
"The next day the Committee met and not only prepared and sent back an answer to Boston but also forwarded the news to the southern colonies accompanied with letters intimating the necessity of a Congress of delegates from all the colonies to devise measures. [In furtherance of this it was] necessary to call a general meeting of the inhabitants of the City at the State House. This required great address. The Quakers had an aversion to town meetings and always opposed them. However it was so managed that they gave their consent, and assisted in preparing the business for this public meeting, agreed on the persons who should preside and those who should address the inhabitants."
There is a touch of humor in the selection of the classical scholar Thomson, a noted educator, in which capacity he was widely known and respected by the Quakers, to act the part of "the rash man." It was shrewdly calculated to impress the conservative portion of the community with the need of associating themselves with the movement in order to moderate it.
Although Thomson's influence was chiefly exerted in shaping action, leaving the front of the stage to others, his ability was well known. John Adams characterized him as "the Sam Adams of Philadelphia, the life of the cause of liberty." In 1774, when the Continental Congress was first constituted, his assistance was sought and without any effort on his part he was installed in the important position of Secretary of Congress. He refused to accept any salary the first year, but he found that in addition to his ordinary duties his services were so much in request for consultation and advice that his work absorbed his time and strength, and in order to provide for his family he had to accept compensation. He continued to serve as Secretary of Congress all through the Revolutionary War, and afterward until the Constitution of the United States was adopted. He resigned in 1789. His modesty, tactfulness and unselfishness made him very popular with the members, and in this way he wielded a great but unobtrusive influence. When the Count de Rochambeau arrived in America in 1780 in command of the body of regulars sent by France, he had with him as a chaplain Abbe Robin. As a result of Robin's observations of Thomson's work in Congress he remarked that "he was the soul of that political body."
One effect of the kindliness of Thomson's character must ever be deeply regretted by historians as it caused a great and irreparable loss. During his secretaryship, which covered the whole existence of the Continental Congress, he accumulated material which he embodied in a historical account; but eventually he destroyed it for fear that its publication should give pain to the descendents and admirers of some of the notables of the Revolutionary period. The reason seems inadequate for so great an offense against the truth of history. Sufficient consideration for personal feelings could have been displayed by sealing the documents for publication at some future period. It was, however, a characteristic display of self-abnegation for there can be no doubt that Thomson himself took an important part in promoting the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As Secretary of Congress he was in constant touch with the advocates of that measure. As a leader of the Whig party of Pennsylvania he was active in promoting measures to bring that State in line with the movement. But with the destruction of his manuscript the details are lost. Their preservation would be particularly desirable as regards the promulgation of the Declaration of Independence, the curt entries of the official record being insufficient to prevent a rank growth of fiction. Independence was actually declared on July 2, 1776, by the adopting of a resolution, "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 connexion between them, and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be, totally dissolved." This resolution was a report from the Committee of the Whole, which report is in the handwriting of Charles Thomson. Writing to his wife the next day, John Adams said: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in America. ... It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty."
But the commemoration settled on the Fourth of July, as that was the day when Congress made its action public. It was the practice of Congress in arriving at an important conclusion to appoint a committee to propose a preamble. This course was followed with respect to the Declaration of Independence and as Lee had been called to his home by the illness of his wife Jefferson became chairman of the committee which was appointed in anticipation of the passage of the resolution. Jefferson draughted the document which was adopted on July 4, and on the same day Congress directed that copies should be sent "to the several assemblies, conventions and committees or councils of safety, and to the several commanding officers of the Continental troops; that it be proclaimed in each of the United States and at the head of the army." In pursuance of this resolution, Secretary Thomson sent a copy to the printer, a Scotch-Irishman named John Dunlap. The printer's copy is lost, but presumably was in the writing of Thomson, who used the broadside print received back from Dunlap as part of the record by wafering it in the proper place in the journal. The only signatures were those of John Hancock, President; and Charles Thomson, Secretary. One of the printed copies was sent to the Committee of Safety in Philadelphia which directed that it should be publicly proclaimed at the State House Monday, July 5. This meeting was the first public demonstration over the passage of the Declaration. The copy of the Declaration to which signatures of members of Congress were attached was engrossed on parchment under a resolution adopted July 19, 1776. It was presented to Congress August 2, and was signed by members present. Other signatures were appended later. Some of those who subsequently signed were not members of Congress when the Declaration was adopted and some who were members at that time never did sign.
Robert R. Livingston of New York, who was a member of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, appears in Trumbull's famous picture of the signers, but his name does not appear on the list, as he was absent when the actual signing took place.
Dr. Zubly of Georgia had been detected in correspondence with the Crown Governor of the Province, and took flight. Congress requested John Houston, a Georgia delegate of Scotch-Irish ancestry who was an ardent supporter of the movement for independence, to follow Zubly to counteract his plots. Owing to his absence on this service his name does not appear among the signers.
The name of Thomas McKean of Pennsylvania did not appear on the list of signers as first published, and he did not append his signature until some time in 1781.
The explanation of such circumstances is that the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was a means to an end, and the leaders were too intent upon that to concern themselves at the time about the formalities that have since become so precious to popular history. McKean was active in Congress in support of the adoption of the Declaration, and as chairman of the Philadelphia City Committee he took a leading part in overthrowing the Pennsylvania opposition to independence. At the same time he was raising troops to strengthen General Washington's forces then in New Jersey. Upon the same day the Declaration was adopted, Congress appointed a committee to confer with the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety on the subject, and the conference took place on July 5. As a result McKean left for the scene of war as colonel of a regiment, so he was absent when the Declaration came up for signatures on August 2, 1776.
The annual celebration of July 4, as Independence Day, started the following year. A letter preserved in the North Carolina Records, written from Philadelphia, July 5, 1777, notes that at the celebration on the preceding day "a Hessian band of music which were taken at Princeton performed very delightfully, the pleasure being not a little heightened by the reflection that they were hired by the British court for purposes very different from those to which they were applied."
Of the fifty-six signers, three were natives of Ireland, Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire and James Smith and George Taylor of Pennsylvania. All three were probably from Ulster, although that fact is not of record in the case of Smith and Taylor. Two signers, James Wilson and John Witherspoon, were natives of Scotland. Two were natives of England, Button Gwinnett and Robert Morris. Francis Lewis of New York was born at Llandaff, Wales. Forty-eight of the signers were American-born, five of them of Irish ancestry, Carroll, Lynch, McKean, Read and Rutledge. But of these only McKean and Rutledge were of Ulster derivation. Lynch's people came from Connaught, Read's from Dublin and Carroll's from King's County, in central Ireland. Two signers, Hooper and Philip Livingston, were of Scotch descent. Four, Jefferson, Williams, Floyd and Lewis Morris, were of Welsh descent. John Morton, one of the Pennsylvania signers, was of Swedish stock. Thirty-six of the American born signers were, so far as known, of English ancestry. Combining these data we have the following apportionment: English thirty-eight, Irish eight (including five of Ulster ancestry), Scotch four, Welsh five, Swedish one.
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|Contents||The Scotch-Irish in America|
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