There is something more horrible than hoodlums, churls and vipers, and that is knaves with moral justification for their cause. — Thomas More

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Declaration of Independence

In June, 1776, Richard Henry Lee brought into Congress a resolution "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States." This was now the opinion of the principal men in our country, and Washington wrote: "When I took command of the army, I abhorred the idea of independence; now I am convinced nothing else will save us."

The minds of the people having been prepared for the change by a little pamphlet called "Common Sense," Congress appointed five men to draw up a Declaration of Independence. These five men were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston; but as the paper, with the exception of a few words, is the work of Jefferson, he is generally called the "Father of the Declaration of Independence."

On July 4, 1776, this paper was adopted by Congress, after hours of discussion. In the meantime, crowds of people were anxiously waiting in the street in front of the old statehouse in Philadelphia to hear the decision of the Congress. A story says that the old bell ringer was at his post, ready to proclaim the glad news as soon as he received the signal from a grandson stationed below. But time seemed so long to the old man that he muttered again and again: "They'll never do it." All at once, however, a little lad darted out of the statehouse, clapping his hands and shouting: "Ring, grandpa! Ring!"

[Illustration] from Story of the Thirteen Colonies by Helene Guerber

Then the Independence Bell, which, strange to relate, bore the inscription, "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," pealed out loud and clear, announcing the birth of the United States of America! All the other bells took up the joyful strain, and the news, flying from place to place, was welcomed everywhere.

John Hancock, president of Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, writing his name in large, plain letters, and saying: "There; John Bull can read my name without spectacles. Now let him double the price on my head, for this is my defiance." Then he turned to the other members, and solemnly added: "We must be unanimous [of one mind]; there must be no pulling different ways; we must all hang together."

"Yes," said Franklin, quaintly: "we must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

We are told that Charles Carroll, thinking his writing looked shaky, added the words "of Carrollton," so that the king should not be able to make any mistake as to whose name stood there.

Pennsylvania Statehouse

Copies of the Declaration of Independence were promptly sent to every colony, where it was solemnly read. In Pennsylvania this reading took place in the yard in front of the statehouse, which has ever since then been known as Independence Hall. It was there that the Liberty Bell hung, and pealed out the happy news. When the tidings reached New York, they were joyfully received by the army, and the Sons of Liberty pulled down King George's leaden statue. They later sent it to Connecticut, where patriot women broke it up and melted it to make bullets for the army.

At the same time, fault began to be found with the name of King's College, which had been established in New York over twenty years. But nothing was done till after the war, when the name was changed to Columbia College.

In the summer of 1776 Howe came into New York Bay with twenty-five thousand men, and soon after landed on Staten Island. In coming to New York, Howe was carrying out part of a great plan which had been made to separate the southern from the New England colonies. To do this, he was to march up the Hudson, while Carleton came south from Canada by way of Lake Champlain.

This plan was, as you see, very cleverly laid; but it was not so easy to carry out as the British expected. Although Carleton marched south and won a victory over Arnold at Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, it was at such a cost that he soon retreated in haste, instead of pressing on.

Soon after General Howe reached New York Bay, his brother, Lord Howe, made a proclamation offering pardon to all who would lay down their arms and promise to obey the king. Next, he sent an officer to the American camp, with this proclamation in a letter addressed to "George Washington, Esq." Washington, knowing that he must uphold the dignity of his country, rightly refused to receive any letter addressed to him as a private citizen. He said that George Washington, the Virginia planter, would not be at home to receive letters until the war was over, and that the general in chief of the American army could not receive any letters unless they bore the proper address.

Lord Howe now sent a second missive, addressed to "George Washington, Esq., etc., etc.; "but Washington also refused that. Seeing that the American general would not yield, Lord Howe ever after sent his letters properly directed, although he hated to do so, because it seemed to acknowledge the new government.

We are told that it was sometime during Washington's sojourn in New York that the British bribed a man to throw poison into the general's dish of pease. But, thanks to the warning of a faithful servant, Washington, although very fond of them, did not eat any, and thus escaped death.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell