The Fayette Citizen-Weekend Page

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Rewriting our glorious history


Members of the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia over 225 summers ago and signed the Declaration of Independence. The document was authored by Thomas Jefferson and includes this famous quote:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Then everybody started piping up about stuff to add.

"I think it would be funny if you wrote, 'All men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.'"

Jefferson growled, "You would think that was funny, Hancock. You practically used all of the ink for your bloody name."

"Make sure we get the right to bear arms in there. For that is an unalienable right and putting a cap in a Redcoat is necessary in my pursuit to happiness," said Aaron Burr, who was just tagging along at the Continental Congress.

"Those types of things don't go in a Declaration of Independence," Jefferson said scowling. He was awfully tired, having spent months on the document. "This document is telling England why we're declaring ourselves a separate nation."

"Because we hate tea and their ales are lousy," said Samuel Adams.

"Because we hate powdered wigs," said John Adams. "Sorry, George, but they are kind of ugly."

"No, no, no!" Jefferson was growing angrier by the second. "We say stuff like, 'Because you quartered your soldiers on our land and then did not hold them accountable for crimes they committed. Because you tax us and we have no say on it whatsoever. Those kinds of things.'"

"Because you make fun of people named Button," said Button Gwinnett, one of Georgia's representatives at the Continental Congress.

"That's not a good reason, Button."

"Well, it makes me very angry. Especially when they speak in those hoity-toity British accents. They say things like 'Cheerio, Button. Tally-ho, Sir Button.' I hate it."

"Do you think we should narrow this to England. What about if aliens attack us? I think we need a plan for an alien invasion as well," said William Whipple of New Hampshire. Whipple owned a country store in Dover and was constantly reminding people not to squeeze the outhouse paper.

"Please," Jefferson pleaded. "We must take this seriously. Every generation that follows us will look to this document as the first step this nation took toward greatness."

Ben Franklin stood up and cleared his throat. He polished his bifocals on his handkerchief and placed them back on.

"Whoever thinks this document is fine like it is and thinks we should start talking about celebrating our independence, say aye."

The group responded with a resounding "Aye." Franklin did not offer a "Nay" vote.

"I think we should have fireworks," yelled Franklin as the drone of the group grew louder and more excited. "Explosions are exciting and they really draw groups of people together."

"We should also have a plethora of refreshments available."

"Enough, Adams. We know you like ale. We get it," snarled Jefferson. "There will be plenty of time to celebrate this day after we bring it to our colonies to ratify and after we fight the war."

A stunned noise echoed throughout the hall.

"A war?" asked Arthur Middleton of South Carolina.

"We're going to war?"

"With the British? They'll kill us all," said Francis Lightfoot Lee of Virginia, trembling.

"Of course we are going to war," said Jefferson. "It has already begun and there is no going back now. We shall not live under tyrannical rule. No taxation without representation. The Redcoats are coming. You know, all that."

"Is that really reason to go to war? I mean, we all hate paying taxes, but it's just money. I don't want to die over a tax on sugar."

Jefferson had had enough. If the fate of this young nation was to rest in their hands, they would have to be led by a strong-minded individual, somebody who knew what he was doing.

"Look, it says right here, "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

There was a sound of confusion as the men tried to figure out exactly what Jefferson was trying to say in that passage.

"He means when government ticks us off and makes us mad, the people can rise up and make a new government," Hancock said. "That is one slippery slope, my friend."

Button Gwinnett spoke up.

"Now, what if our government breaks the rules, can the citizens overthrow it as well?"

"Yes," said Jefferson. "I think there should be a revolution every 50 years."

At that point everyone stood up and chortled. There would not be a revolution every 50 years. People wanted freedom, but they didn't want violence and death and protest every 50 years. People wanted peace.

"The Declaration is fine like it is," said Franklin, who put a hand on Jefferson's shoulder. "Come on, Tom. Let's get some fresh air and go down to the tavern. I have to tell you about the mouse that I've been talking to."

Jefferson was confused. A mouse? Perhaps everybody had been cooped up too long. Besides, everyone had already signed the document and there was no reason to rewrite it. The Continental Congress went out into the streets of Philadelphia, pounded a few and then read their document to the people of the fair city at 3:30 a.m., after ringing what is now known as the Liberty Bell for close to half an hour.

Oh, and Button Gwinnett was the one who put the crack in it.

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