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Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

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Ideological Origins of the American Revolution Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

When enumerating the inalienable rights of "all men," including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson drew on a phrase from John Locke: "life, liberty, and property." Jefferson substituted the word "happiness" for "property" because he did not consider property to be an inalienable right; contemporary belief also stipulated that property produced "happiness." The entire Continental Congress went on to make eighty-six more changes in the Declaration, which shortened its overall length by one-fourth.4

Almost 20,000 colonists joined loyalist military regiments to fight against their fellow Americans. They wished instead to remain loyal subjects of the English crown.5

Diplomat, scientist, inventor, businessman, and humorist Dr. Benjamin Franklin composed a list of some 200 synonyms for "drunk." Published at least four decades before the American Revolution, it included terms such as "soaked," "nimptopsical," "his flag is out," "middling," "cut," "been in the sun," "piss'd in the brook," and "cherry-merry."6

Thomas Jefferson: founding father, statesman, and...plagiarist? The term might be a bit unfair, granted that he was drafting a Declaration of Independence and not a term paper, but nonetheless, several of TJ's phrasings bear a more-than-coincidental resemblance to the recently drafted Declaration of Rights in the Virginia constitution, which was composed by Jefferson's fellow planter George Mason and which appeared in Philadelphia newspapers (where Jefferson and the Continental Congress had convened) in mid-June 1776. Compare the following with the Declaration itself: Mason wrote, "all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights,...among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety."7

Of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine were immigrants. One was an orphan. Seventeen served in the military during the American Revolution. The average age of the signers was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27. Six of the signers went on to sign the U.S. Constitution. Only two of the signers went on to become presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Another signer, Benjamin Harrison, had two descendants who ascended to the office: his son, William Henry, who became the ninth president, and his great-grandson, also named Benjamin Harrison, who became the twenty-third president.8 More than half of the Convention delegates were college educated, and this was at a time when less than one-tenth of 1% of all Americans attended college.9

On 2 July 1776, Virginian Richard Henry Lee's resolution passed in the Continental Congress that "these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the Second of July would be "the most memorable epoch in the history of America," but he was off by two days. The fourth became America's Independence Day because that was when Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.10

As many as 1 in 30 Americans, or some 80,000 people, left the country after the Revolutionary War. They sought to remain in the British Empire, so approximately half of them went north to Canada. That figure includes some 3,000 black people, who had been slaves but were granted their freedom in exchange for fighting on the British side. Several hundred members of the Mohawk Indian tribe, long-standing British allies, did the same. Other destinations included Jamaica, Sierra Leone, India, and—for the convicts—Australia's Botany Bay.11

An old myth had it that the Latin motto e pluribus unum—the motto on the Great Seal of the United States that was originally proposed by a 1776 committee of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—came from a recipe for salad in a poem entitled "Moretum," which was attributed to Virgil. The line describes a person tossing a salad, where "little by little the elements lose their peculiar strength; the many colors blend into one." Yet the phrase used here is e pluribus unus, not unum. Scholars instead point to the eighteenth-century Gentleman's Magazine, where e pluribus unum was printed on the title-page legend of every issue for over a century. This London periodical took the phrase from an earlier publication in the same city which ran during the late seventeenth century; both magazines printed the Latin motto beside the illustration of a hand holding a bouquet of flowers. As the original publication explained, the motto referred to the diversity of pieces in each issue, in the hopes that at least one of them would please the reader; much like the variety of flowers in a bouquet, where there was something for everyone. Later interpretations during the 1730s argued that the motto meant "one composed of many" or "one formed out of many."12

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died within hours of each other on 4 July 1826, exactly fifty years to the day after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Adams was sitting in a wingback chair and some of his last words are reputed to have been "Thomas Jefferson still survives"; but perhaps he meant it metaphorically, as Jefferson had died a few hours earlier in his estate at Monticello, where he knowingly asked "Is it the fourth?" before passing. Former President James Monroe also died on the fourth, but five years later.13

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