Mosaic Lodge #194

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Home From the Historian's Desk Masonic History Declaration of Independence

“Declaration of Independence” and Our “Independence Day” celebration

Having read several books on the “Declaration of Independence”, I found some very interesting information, which I wish to share, as we are approaching our “Independence Day’ Celebration.

The Second Continental Congress met throughout the winter of 1775/76 in the large Assembly Room of the State House in Philadelphia, with John Hancock serving as President.  Sentiment for a complete break with Great Britain mounted continuously; and on June 7, 1776, the Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee offered his resolution “that these United colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” Lee’s resolution was passed on July 2nd.

Sec Cont Congress Room
Sec Cont Congress Room
The Second Continental Congress formed a committee known today as the “The Committee of Five.  It consisted of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman. They were to come up with a draft for the Declaration.  Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence—intended to justify to the world the passage of the Lee resolution.  The Committee of Five first presented the document to Congress on June 28, 1776.  After considerable amendment, Congress adopted the Declaration late in the afternoon of Thursday, July 4th.  The Declaration was not signed that day, except by John Hancock.  Congress merely ordered that the revised text be printed, and then turned to other business.  Next day Congress resolved that the Declaration “be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the Head of the Army.”  On July 19th, it was ordered that the Declaration “be fairly engrossed on parchment…and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.  The formal signing took place on August 2, 1776.

There was no public celebration of the first Fourth of July.  The text of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia newspapers over the weekend, and the entire document was publicly read in the State House yard at noon on Monday, July 8, 1776.  Not until then did the great bell in the tower ring out its message of freedom.  The bell had no crack at that time.  Its inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…” had been placed on the bell more than twenty years before.

---The Declaration of Independence declared that the Thirteen Colonies in North America be “free and independent states”.

---The Declaration of Independence explained the justifications for separation from the British crown.

---The Declaration of Independences is on display in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C.

---The Declaration of Independence is considered to be the founding document of the United States of America.

---Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4th, which was the day that the Declaration was adopted.

---John Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress at the time of the signing and was the first and only   person to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776.

---The remaining 54 delegates did not sign the Declaration until August 2, 1776. (Robert Livingston, a member of the committee, never signed it.  He believed that it was too soon to declare independence and therefore refused to sign).

 

The nine Masonic Signers of the Declaration of Independence were:

John Hancock of Massachusetts - He was President of Congress during the debate about the Declaration of Independence and during its signing.  His signature is the first and largest on the Declaration.  He was one of the wealthiest men in the thirteen colonies and served as Governor of Massachusetts for many years.  He became a Mason in Merchants Lodge No. 277 in Quebec, affiliating with Saint Andrews’ Lodge in Boston, in 1762.

George Walton of Georgia – He was one of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence at only 26 years of age.  He was appointed a Colonel in the Continental Army and was seriously wounded and captured by the British during the Battle of Savannah.  He was a member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, Savannah, Georgia.

William Hopper of North Carolina - His father was a loyalist to the British crown who actually disowned his son because he supported the cause of the Revolutionary War.  William Hopper was dragged through the streets for supporting North Carolina’s colonial governor.  He was a member of Hanover Lodge in Masonborough, N.C.

Joseph Hewes of North Carolina - He was a wealthy merchant who spent his time in the Continental Congress creating the United States Navy.  He appointed America’s first naval hero, John Paul Jones, to his position.  Joseph Hewes never married.  He worked night and day during the Revolution until his health began to fail.  He died tragically from over exertion during the war.  He was a member of Unanimity Lodge No. 7 and was buried with Masonic funeral honors.

Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania – He was the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  He was a printer, author, philosopher, scientist and inventor.  He created the first American Public Library and the first American fire station force.   He became a prominent diplomat to Europe and his last public act was to sign a memorial to Congress recommending the abolition of slavery.  He was a member of St. John’s Lodge, Philadelphia, 1731 and Grand Master of Pa. in 1734.

William Ellery of Rhode Island - Unlike many of the other signers of the Declaration, he never held any other significant office other than being a delegate to the Continental Congress.  He served faithfully in Congress and as a customs officer in his hometown of Newport for many years.  His home and property were destroyed in the British invasion of Newport and never fully recovered financially.  He died at the age of 92 (The only other signer who lived longer was Charles Carroll).  Ellery was a member of the First Lodge of Boston, 1748.

Richard Stockton of New Jersey - He was a successful lawyer who was not an early supporter of independence from Britain.  Stockton hurried home when the British invaded N.J. in late 1776.  Local loyalists informed the British of his whereabouts and he was captured and imprisoned.  He was subjected to very harsh treatment and was eventually released, but his health never recovered.  His estate was partially destroyed by the British and he died in 1781 as a result of his captivity.  He was the first Master of St. John’s Lodge, Princeton, 1765.

William Whipple of New Hampshire – He was a former sea captain who became a successful merchant in Portsmouth, N.H.  He served as a brigadier general in N.H. and led four brigades in the Battle of Saratoga that defeated Gen. John Burgoyne’s British army, a major turning point for the Americans in the war for independence.  He was a member of St. John’s Lodge, Portsmouth N.H. 1752.

Robert Treat Paine of Massachusetts – He was originally a clergyman, but later went into the field of law.  He served in many public offices and was an early member of the inner circle of Massachusetts’s rebel leaders, being a close friend of John Adams and John Hancock.  He gained national prominence as one of the prosecuting attorneys of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.  Records of his Masonic membership were lost, but he attended Grand Lodge on June 26, 1759.

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence, nine of which were Masons.  No one who signed the Declaration of Independence was born in the United States of America.  The United States didn’t exist until after the Declaration was signed.  All but eight of the signers were born in colonies that would become the United States of America.

On the back of the Declaration of Independence is handwritten a few words that say “Original Declaration of Independence, dated 4th July 1776”.  The author of this statement is unknown, but this was probably added as a label when the document was stored many years ago.

As we celebrate our Independence Day on July 4th and the Declaration of Independence, let us always remember our service men and women who are defending this great country.  God Bless them and God Bless America.  Fly our Flag proudly!


By Brother Daniel J. Schultz, PGH
Masonic Historian

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