While danger was gathering round New York, and its inhabitants were in mute suspense and fearful anticipations, the General Congress at Philadelphia was discussing, with closed doors, what John Adams pronounced: "The greatest question ever debated in America, and as great as ever was or will be debated among men." The result was, a resolution passed unanimously on the 2d of July; "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States."
"The 2d of July," adds the same patriot statesman, "will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forth forevermore."
The glorious event has, indeed, given rise to an annual jubilee; but not on the day designated by Adams. The FOURTH of July is the day of national rejoicing, for on that day the "Declaration of Independence," that solemn and sublime document, was adopted.
Tradition gives a dramatic effect to its announcement. It was known to be under discussion, but the closed doors of Congress excluded the populace. They awaited, in throngs, an appointed signal. In the steeple of the State House was a bell, imported twenty-three years previously from London by the Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania. It bore the portentous text from Scripture: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof." A joyous peal from that bell gave notice that the bill had been passed. It was the knell of British domination.
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 declared:—
"We must be unanimous. 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 that 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.