by Jay Zimmer

This past week we celebrated the 236th anniversary of the adoption (NOT the signing) of the Declaration of Independence.  Its creation, the work of a five-man committee, its review by the Second Continental Congress and its passage is the stuff of American legend.  Among other things, is was the beginning of representative politics in what became – with that document – the United States.

Arguably, the political system actually had its nativity earlier, in the colonial legislatures and in the First Continental Congress.  Yet many historians consider that to be practice.  Politics on the American continent took root when Second Continental Congress president John Hancock appointed five men to oversee writing a declaration which would define Virginia’s resolution on independence.  Those men – Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia – would oversee a document that would endure far longer than anyone of that time could possibly imagine, and their inspiration – coupled with the later Constitutional work – would light the world for nearly two and a half centuries.

Two of those men (Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman) would sign the Constitution, and two (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) would be president under that Constitution.

Certainly the work of the Committee – notably Thomas Jefferson, whose quill pen furnished most of the verbiage – did not sail through Congress unscathed.  Fully one-quarter of its wordage was excised, including a passage that rankled Southern aristocratic representatives which attacked the institution of slavery.

The document neatly outlined the colonial grievances against King George III and the British Parliament, the main one complaining that since Colonial interests were not represented in Parliament, that body therefore had no right to levy taxes upon colonists, nor to quarter soldiers in colonial homes, nor to effect arrests of American citizens without due process.

The Virginia resolution on independence and the resulting declaration set the tone for Congressional debate that continues unabated to the present day.  Right or wrong, productive or stagnant, those who orate and resolve on Capitol Hill in 2012 are the legislative descendants of those who set up a new nation with the scratching of a pen on parchment.

If you haven’t taken the time to read the Declaration since school, call it up on the Internet and have a look at this brilliantly conceived, highly effective founding cornerstone of this oldest republic on the face of the earth.