[Repost; originally posted 7/26/2013; revised 7/26/2021]
When Lloyd Austin III, a retired general, was confirmed by the Senate as defense secretary in January 2021, he became the the first Black Pentagon chief.
This historic landmark is a reminder that on July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued two Executive Orders that ended official discrimination in the United States military and the federal workforce.
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing efficiency or morale.
Coming in an election year, it was a daring move by Truman, who still needed the support of southern segregationists. It was also a controversial decision that led to the forced retirement of the Secretary of the Army when he refused to desegregate the Army.
President Truman, the first President to speak to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had based part of his platform on civil rights. Successfully elected but stymied by the 80th Congress, President Truman—armed with documentation from his Committee on Civil Rights—called for a special session for Congress. They were to convene on July 26, 1948.
On that hot, summer day in July, Truman signed his name to two documents: Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, integrating the Armed Forces and the Federal workforce.
Truman’s decision reflected the deep racist discrimination that plagued the country, including the celebrated G.I. Bill, passed to help veterans of World War II with education, housing, and job training. The program, while profoundly significant in American history, was largely closed to Black veterans.
Civil rights groups, frustrated by the lack of progress, continued to press Truman on legislation for racial equality. Knowing that civil rights legislation would stall in Congress, and with the reputation of the United States as a great democratic nation being questioned as racism continued to flourish during a nascent Cold War, on July 26, 1948, Truman signed two Executive Orders, 9980 and 9981, desegregating the federal work force and armed services — practices that would take years to be fully carried out.
As historical documents go, ““Executive Order 9980” and “Executive Order 9981” don’t have quite the same ring as “Emancipation Proclamation” or “New Deal.” But when President Harry S. Truman issued these Executive Orders, he helped transform the country. The first desegregated the federal workforce, segregated by President Woodrow Wilson.
The second order began the gradual official process of desegregating America’s armed forces, which was a groundbreaking step for the American civil rights movement.
It is worth noting that many of the arguments made at the time against integration of the armed services — unit cohesion, morale of the troops, discipline in the ranks– were also made about the question of homosexuals serving in the military, a policy effectively ended when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was overturned in 2011.
In a Defense Department history of the integration of the Armed Forces, Brigadier General James Collins Jr. wrote in 1980:
The integration of the armed forces was a momentous event in our military and national history…. The experiences in World War II and the postwar pressures generated by the civil rights movement compelled all the services –Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps — to reexamine their traditional practices of segregation. While there were differences in the ways that the services moved toward integration, all were subject to the same demands, fears, and prejudices and had the same need to use their resources in a more rational and economical way. All of them reached the same conclusion: traditional attitudes toward minorities must give way to democratic concepts of civil rights.
Here is the text of the Executive Order 9981 (Source: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum; dated July 26, 1948)
(Originally posted on July 13, 2010; reposted July 13, 2021)
On July 13, 1863, New York City exploded in a four-day long murderous riot, still considered one of the deadliest urban riots in American history. The cause of the riots–violent opposition to the Civil War draft law.
Since poverty has been our crime,
We bow to the decree.
We are the poor who have no wealth
To purchase liberty.
If your picture of draft dodgers is one of 60s-era hippies shouting “Hell No, We won’t go,” the ditty above offers another vision.
It comes from the Civil War era, when the United States passed its first federal draft, the Enrollment Act, in March 1863. (A Confederate Draft had actually preceded the federal draft by two years.)
Under the rules of the law, there were certain exemptions –telegraph operators and railroad engineers were excused, as were certain government employees.
Then there were the rich. They were different. Under the terms of the Civil War draft, a man could avoid the draft by paying $300 or hiring a substitute. J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and future President Grover Cleveland all did it. So did the wealthy father of Teddy Roosevelt.
The practice led to the complaint that the Civil War was “A rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”
Coming on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation announced in January 1863, the draft law was bitterly resented. By the summer of 1863 angry protests had taken place in nearly every union state. The headline of one Pennsylvania newspaper read: “WILLING TO FIGHT FOR UNCLE SAM BUT NOT FOR UNCLE SAMBO.”
And resistance to the draft soon turned ugly. Nowhere was the opposition greater or more violent than in New York City where Lincoln was despised by the powerful Democratic party which was openly critical of his administration. The working class Irish were particularly resentful of policies that allowed the wealthy to buy their way out of the draft, and they were hostile toward blacks, many of whom had been used to replace striking Irish longshoreman at New York’s docks.
The anger spilled over into violence in July 1863. On Saturday morning, July 11, the first draftees’ names were pulled in a lottery and announced. They were published alongside the casualty lists from the recent battle of Gettysburg, fought from July 1-3, 1863.
The following Monday, July 13, the draft office at Third Avenue and Forty-sixth Street was attacked by a mob of men armed with clubs who set the building afire. The fire brigade, angry that their jobs were not entitled to an official exemption, joined the mob instead of putting out the fire.
This was the beginning of a four-day spree of looting and arson that ended with murderous rioting.
Singled out for deadly attacks was the city’s black population. The rioters, many of them too young for the draft got caught up in the frenzy. Hundreds of mostly Irish rioters burned and pillaged their way down Third Avenue, en route to an armory where they seized hundreds of rifles. Another mob attacked an orphanage where black children lived. The anger boiled over into grotesquely savage atrocities. A crippled black coachman was lynched and his body burned. After his genitals were cut off, the mob dragged the body through the streets
One newspaper account published by the African Methodist Episcopal church, read:
“Many men were killed and thrown into the rivers, a great number were hung to trees and lamp-posts, numbers shot down; no black person could show their heads but that they were hunted like wolves. These scenes continued for four days.”
The riots left at least hundreds dead –some estimates range to two thousand—of course, most of them black. Order was eventually restored when troops arrived, some of them from West Point, others returning to New York from the Gettysburg battlefield.
The New-York Historical Society has an excellent overview of the riots and the Civil War period in New York:
New York Divided
President Harry S. Truman (Diary Entry July 17, 1945)
“Promptly a few minutes before twelve I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway. I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled. I did the same. . . . After the usual polite remarks we got down to business. I told Stalin that I am no diplomat but usually said yes or no to questions after hearing all the argument. It pleased him. I asked him if he had the agenda for the meeting. He said he had and that he had some more questions to present. I told him to fire away. He did and it is dynamite—but I have some dynamite too which I’m not exploding now. . . . I can deal with Stalin. He is honest—but smart as hell.”
(Source: The National Archives)“On July 17, 1945, two months after Germany surrendered to the Allies at the end of World War II, President Harry S. Truman came face to face with Marshal Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, one of the most brutal autocrats of all time.
The meeting between Truman and Stalin took place in a suburb of the devastated city of Berlin just before the opening of the Potsdam Conference. Truman, Stalin, and Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, leaders of the three largest Allied nations, were gathered there to discuss the political future of Europe and the conduct of the war still raging in the Pacific.” (Eyewitness: The National Archives)
The day before this meeting, the atomic bomb had been successfully tested in New Mexico. A week later, on July 24, Truman informed Stalin of a “new weapon of unusual destructive force.” Through his network of spies, Stalin already knew about the atomic bomb.
Read my post, “The Month That Changed the World,” a complete account of events in the final days of World War II.
I discuss Truman’s presidency in greater detail in Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents and the post-World War II beginnings of the Cold War in Don’t Know Much About History and The Hidden History of America at War. For more about Stalin read Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy.
(This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared on March 17, 2012)
On July 6, 1844, a second round of deadly anti-Catholic violence took place right after Independence Day in the City of Brotherly Love.
A reminder once more that the “dangerous, dirty, job-stealing” immigrants were once Irish and Catholic.
Once upon a time, the Irish –and specifically Irish Catholics– were vilified by the majority in White Anglo-Saxon Protestant America. The Irish were considered the dregs by “Nativist” Americans who leveled at Irish immigrants all of the insults and charges typically aimed at every hated immigrant group: they were lazy, uneducated, dirty, disease-ridden, a criminal class who stole jobs from Americans. And dangerous. The Irish were said to be plotting to overturn the U.S. government and install the Pope in a new Vatican.
One notorious chapter in the hidden history of Irish-Americans is left out of most textbooks — the violently anti-Catholic, anti-Irish “Bible Riots” of 1844.
In May 1844, Philadelphia –the City of Brotherly Love– was torn apart by a series of bloody riots. Known as the “Bible Riots,” they grew out of the vicious anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that was so widespread in 19th century America. The second round of mob violence began on July 6 and continued on July 7, 1844.
Families were burned out of their homes. Churches were destroyed. And more than two dozen people died in one of the worst urban riots in American History.
You can read more about America’s history of intolerance –religious and otherwise– in this Smithsonian essay, “America’s True History of Religious Tolerance.”
(Original post of 2011; revised July 4, 2021)
Among America’s iconic Founding Fathers, is there a more complicated and contradictory figure than Thomas Jefferson?
Scientist, humanist, Enlightenment thinker, writer, architect, politician. He was all these things. The confusion over this genius comes from one basic question: How could the man who wrote, “All Men are Created Equal” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” go home to a Monticello plantation, completely dependent upon enslaved labor?
Even Jefferson’s birthday is confusing. History books say he was born on April 13,1743. But the grave marker at Monticello says he was born on April 2. That one is easier to answer than some of the larger contradictions in Jefferson’s life. Jefferson was born while the old Julian calendar was still in use in Protestant England and its American colonies. So the April 2 date is called “Old Style” (O.S.). When Great Britain and America finally came around and adopted the Gregorian (named for Pope Gregory) Calendar in 1758, Jefferson’s birth date was changed to April 13.
Birth date aside, Thomas Jefferson more than anyone embodies the “Great Contradiction” in American history. How could a nation dedicated to ideals of freedom and liberty continue a system that enslaved human beings in the cruelest of ways?
That contradiction is nowhere more evident than in Jefferson’s original draft of Declaration of Independence.
A few years ago, at the New York Public Library, I had the thrill of seeing Jefferson’s handwritten copy of his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. We may take the words for granted now. But Jefferson gave full voice to the idea that we all possess “inalienable rights.” That we are “created equal.” That we have basic rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That governments exist to advance those human rights, and only with the “consent of the governed.”
This document was written on both sides of two pieces of paper. In his careful, flowing script, Jefferson included all of his original wording to show what the Congress in Philadelphia had changed, underscoring words and phrases that had been deleted. Those alterations, Jefferson, thought were “mutilations.” Distressed by the editing, he made these “fair copies” of his original some time after July 4th.
The most startling of these changes is a paragraph about what Jefferson calls “this execrable commerce” — slavery. Jefferson charged that King George III was responsible for the slave trade and was preventing American efforts to restrain that trade. The section was deleted completely. But it is striking to see Jefferson’s bold, block lettering when he describes:
an open market where MEN should be bought & sold
He clearly wanted to underscore his belief that enslaved people were “MEN.”
The contradiction is troubling and difficult to resolve. Jefferson knew slavery was wrong. He believed, like fellow slaveholder George Washington, that it would end. But both were inextricably tied to a society and economy, built on enslavement, even though they believed that the “peculiar institution” would gradually die out.
Of course, part of the cynicism in Jefferson’s case is due to the relationship between Jefferson and an enslaved woman Sally Hemings. Monticello now acknowledges that relationship existed, a contention first raised publicly in 1802 by muckraking newspaperman James Callender. In recent years, Monticello has also gone a long way in addressing the question of enslaved life at the plantation.
Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826 –the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration– and his deep contradictions are the perfect reminder that politicians are people –even the marble gods like Washington and Jefferson. Their all-too human flaws are proof of that as well as the fact that history books once tried to hide these flaws by pointing to the past with pride and patriotism.
Those flaws are explored in several of my books, including Don’t Know Much About History, Don’t Know Much About the Civil War and most recently, In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents and Five Black Lives.
John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams (July 3 1776)
But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America….It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress had passed a resolution of independence for America. The next day, Adams wrote to his wife expressing his optimistic view that the date would go down in history and be cause for great celebrations.
He was off by two days.
After considerable debate, Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and July 4th was quickly established in the American imagination as “Independence Day.”
[Post revised 6/30/2021]
AS THE NATION examines the role slavery played in its history, it is important to recognize that slavery was an issue in 1776. Among the men who eventually signed the Declaration, at least forty of them enslaved people or took part in the slave trade. A “YES” following the entry means the Signer enslaved people; “NO” means he did not.
A New Hampshire slaver. A forgotten founder who died in debt and disgrace. A college president. A legendary bullet maker. Jefferson’s teacher –and a murder victim. Last but not least among the 56 signers.
–William Whipple (New Hampshire) Often described as a 46-year-old “merchant,” he was more precisely a sea captain who made a fortune sailing between Africa and the West Indies — in other words, the merchandise was human cargo.
He also enslaved people and one of those men, known as Prince, accompanied Whipple throughout his illustrious career as an officer in the Revolution. It was thought that Prince was the Black man depicted in the famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware” painting, but that is not accurate because Prince and Whipple were far from the action that night. Whipple later served in a variety of state offices in New Hampshire and legally manumitted Prince –who also went by the name of Caleb Quotum — in 1784. Whipple died in Portsmouth in 1785. YES
–William Williams (Connecticut) A 45-year-old merchant, he was a veteran of the French and Indian War who was under command of his uncle Ephraim Williams, who was shot and killed in the war. (Ephraim Williams’s will provided funds for the founding of what became Williams College in Massachusetts.) Planning to follow his father as a minister, he attended Harvard but instead opened a store and became a successful merchant.
Williams married Mary Trumbull, the daughter of Connecticut’s Royal Governor. Governor Trumbull was a Royal Governor who supported the patriot cause and was a friend and adviser of George Washington. One of Mary Trumbull’s brothers, John Trumbull, became the most famous painter of the American Revolution, and another later became Connecticut’s Governor.
William Williams was not present for the July vote but signed the Declaration and was a tireless supporter of the war effort. After a long career in public service, he died in 1811, aged 81. NO
–James Wilson (Pennsylvania) Scottish-born, he was a 33-year-old lawyer at the time of the signing and one of the most important Founding Fathers you probably never heard of. A key supporter of the Declaration, Wilson was among the signers and Philadelphia elites who were attacked in his home during the war in a riot over food prices and scarcity.
Wilson was also a key member of the Constitutional Convention, credited with several significant compromises. Although hopeful to be made Chief Justice of the new Supreme Court, he was appointed an associate by Washington. But land speculation ruined him and he ended up in debtor’s prison, like his colleague Robert Morris (See previous post #7) before his death in disgrace at age 55 in 1798, an embarrassment to his Federalist friends and colleagues. NO
–John Witherspoon (New Jersey) Another profoundly influential immigrant, the Scottish-born minister was the 53-year-old president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) where his hatred of the British influenced many students including notable schoolmates Aaron Burr and James Madison. He lost a son at the battle of Germantown in 1777, but continued his career in Congress. After the war, he attempted to rebuild the college and was a prime mover in the growth and organization of the Presbyterian Church. He died in 1794 in Princeton, where he is buried, at age 71. YES
–Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut) A 49-year-old lawyer, he was also a veteran of the French and Indian War who was not present for the vote and signed at a later date. Wolcott was in New York when Washington’s troops tore down a statue of King George III after hearing the Declaration of Independence read. He is credited with the plan to melt down the lead statue and turn it into bullets for the war effort. He served in the Connecticut militia during the Revolution and held a series of state posts after the war including as governor of Connecticut at his death in 1797, aged 71. YES
–George Wythe (Virginia) A 50-year-old lawyer at the signing, he may have made his greatest mark as a teacher of law to Thomas Jefferson who lived with Wythe while at the College of William and Mary –as well as later students including James Monroe, future Chief Justice John Marshall, and congressman Henry Clay, earning him the title “America’s first law professor.”
He died in 1806 , around 80, apparently murdered by a nephew by arsenic poisoning. The nephew was perturbed that Wythe had emancipated his enslaved people and planned to give half his estate to one of those emancipated people. The nephew was acquitted of murder after the testimony of a formerly enslaved woman was disallowed because she was black. The nephew was convicted of forging his uncle’s checks. YES
Read the story of James Wilson and the Philadelphia Riot in America’s Hidden History.
(Post revised 6/29/2021)
As the nation examines the role slavery played in its history, it is important to recognize that slavery was an issue in 1776. Among the men who signed the Declaration, at least forty of them enslaved people or took part in the slave trade. A “YES” following the entry means the Signer enslaved people; “No” means he did not.
…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.
A victim of the British. Two Irish immigrants, one an indentured servant. A reluctant lawyer. An orphaned carpenter. Among the next five of 56 signers.
–Richard Stockton (New Jersey) Of the signers who paid for their actions, this successful and much-admired 45-year-old attorney at the signing, may have suffered most. Betrayed by Tory Loyalists in his home state, he was captured by the British in 1776, although later released in a prisoner exchange, not for having sworn allegiance to the King, as reported in a much-disputed rumor of the day. His New Jersey home was also damaged by the British but later restored. Stockton was in poor health after the experience in captivity but lived until 1781, when he died of throat cancer.
Stockton is also credited with recruiting John Witherspoon, an influential Sottish minister, (See next installment in series) to become president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). His daughter, Julia, was married to Benjamin Rush, another signer.
“Stockton’s home ‘Morven’ had been occupied by British General Cornwallis. Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote: ‘The whole of Mr. Stockton’s furniture, apparel, and even valuable writings have been burnt. All his cattle, horses, hogs, sheep, grain and forage have been carried away by them. His losses cannot amount to less than five thousand pounds.’” (Source: The Society of the Descendants of the Signers.)
His home Morven, later served as the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion from 1954-1981. Today, his name is familiar to most people because there is rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike named in his honor. YES
–Thomas Stone (Maryland) Among the conservatives in Congress, he was a 33-year-old attorney at the signing, reluctant about independence, but then joining in the favorable vote.He wrote:
“I wish to conduct affairs so that a just and honorable reconciliation should take place, or that we should be pretty unanimous in a resolution to fight it out for independence. The proper way to effect this is not to move too quick. But then we must take care to do everything which is necessary for our security and defense, not suffer ourselves to be lulled or wheedled by any deceptions, declarations or givings out. You know my heart wishes for peace upon terms of security and justice to America. But war, anything, is preferable to a surrender of our rights.” (Source: The Society of the Descendants of the Signers)
Another son of a wealthy planter, he had a low profile after the signing, helping write the Articles of Confederation but not signing them. He also declined to take part in the Constitutional Convention, when his wife, who fell ill following an earlier inoculation against smallpox, died in 1787. Apparently despondent, he died four months later in 1787 at age 44. YES
–George Taylor (Pennsylvania) Arriving in America as an indentured servant from Ireland, he was a 60-year-old merchant and iron maker at the signing. He had risen at the foundry where he worked to become bookkeeper, then bought the business after his employer’s death and then married the late owner’s widow. Taylor was not in the influential Pennsylvania delegation for the July vote, but signed the document in August. During the war, his foundry provided cannon and cannonballs for the war effort, but Congress was notoriously slow to pay its bills and his business suffered. He died in 1781 at age 65. YES
–Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire) An Irish-born physician, he was around 62 at the signing, a veteran surgeon who had served with the New Hampshire militia in the French and Indian War. A latecomer to Congress, he joined in November 1776 and was later permitted to add his name to the document. He later served as a state judge and then operated a farm and ferry before his death in 1803 at about age 89. NO
–George Walton (Georgia) Orphaned and apprenticed as a carpenter, he was a 35-year-old, self taught attorney at the signing. Although his exact birth date is unknown, some claim that he was the youngest Signer – a distinction usually given to Edward Rutledge (See previous entry).
Serving with the Georgia militia, he was shot and captured by the British in 1778. He was held for a year before being exchanged for a British officer –even though it was known he was a Signer. He later served in a variety of state offices, including governor and senator from Georgia, and built a home on lands confiscated after the war from a Tory, or Loyalist. He is implicated in the events that led to the duel that killed fellow signer and political rival Button Gwinnet (see Part 3 of series). He died in February 1804, presumably aged 63. NO
“Unlike most men of property and influence in Georgia, Walton did not own slaves. There is little record of his public views on slavery, but it is known that shortly after leaving the governor’s mansion, Walton spoke out against what he called ‘barbarian’ treatment of members of an African-American Baptist congregation in Yamacraw, Georgia, in 1790.”
Post updated 6/28/2021]
A “YES” following an entry means the Signer enslaved people; “NO” means he did not.
…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.
Betsy Ross’s uncle. The “first psychiatrist.” Youngest signer. The Great Compromiser. An Irishman named Smith. The next five signers:
–George Ross (Pennsylvania) The son of a Scottish-born minister, he was a 46-year-old attorney at the signing, a Loyalist or Tory, before turning to the Patriot cause in 1775. He served as a Colonel in the Pennsylvania militia. Yes, he was Betsy’s uncle by marriage, but the rest of the Ross flag story has been dismissed as family legend.
Ross left Congress in early 1777 due to illness — severe gout, a form of arthritis once described as the “rich man’s disease” that afflicted a number of other signers. He later served as a Pennsylvania judge before his death in 1779 at 49, following a severe attack of gout. NO
–Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania) Raised by a widowed mother, he was a 30-year-old physician at the signing, youngest in the influential Pennsylvania delegation. He was elected after the July vote and his diaries, letters, and notes provided some of the best portraits of many of the signers and other founders.
He served as surgeon general of the armies during the war, and became an early abolitionist while still a slaveholder himself. Rush was also an early advocate of many modern medical practices, while at the same time practicing bloodletting. He established the first free medical clinic and remained in Philadelphia during a yellow fever epidemic in 1793 when the city was the nation’s capital, spoke against capital punishment, and in favor of the idea that there was mental illness which led to his being called “The Father of American Psychiatry.” He died of typhus in 1813 at age 67. YES
–Edward Rutledge (South Carolina) Son of an Irish immigrant physician, he was a 26-year-old attorney at the signing, the youngest of the signers. A wealthy planter as well as a much-admired attorney, Rutledge initially opposed the Declaration before changing his mind to support the favorable vote.
He later left Congress and was captured by the British while serving in the militia when Charleston fell in May 1780. He was held in St. Augustine for nearly a year. After the war, his finances and businesses flourished and he returned to state politics. Offered a Supreme Court seat by George Washington, he was instead elected governor of South Carolina in 1789, but died at age 50 in 1800, before his term ended. YES
–Roger Sherman (Connecticut) A self-educated son of a farmer, he was a prosperous merchant, attorney, and politician, aged 55 at the signing. He would sign three of the central documents in America’s foundation: the Declaration (he was a member of the draft committee), the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution.
It was at the 1787 Constitutional convention that Sherman proposed the “Great Compromise” that ended the deadlock between large and small states. He was also a true “Founding Father”– after Carroll (18 children) and Ellery (16 children), Sherman fathered the third most children among the signers -15. A leading Federalist, he served in the House and Senate, where he was serving at his death in 1793 at age 72. NO
–James Smith (Pennsylvania) Another immigrant signer, he was born in Northern Ireland and was around 57-years-old at the signing, another self-taught attorney. He had been an outspoken advocate of challenging oppressive British laws and called for the boycott of British goods that was later adopted by the First Continental Congress.
He also joined the Pennsylvania militia and was elected an officer. After the July vote, he signed the Declaration and then rode to York, Pennsylvania to have it read aloud on July 6. He served as Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania militia and later returned to law practice and state offices before his death in 1806 at about age 87. NO
A “YES” following an entry means the Signer enslaved people; “NO” means he did not.
…We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes , and our Sacred Honor.
Minister turned whaleboat captain and lawyer. Self-taught planters’ sons. A Nay vote. A rare bachelor. And a veiled man. The next six signers:
–Thomas Nelson, Jr. (Virginia) Another son of a wealthy planter. he was a 37-year-old merchant-planter at the signing, owner of more than 400 enslaved people. He raised money to supply troops and even commanded militia. Legend has it that he fired a cannon at his own Yorktown mansion during the 1781 siege when told that it was British headquarters. The war cost him financially and he was in ill health, retiring as Virginia’s governor and living on his plantation until his death at 50 in 1789. YES
–William Paca (Maryland) An attorney and wealthy planter’s son, he was 35 at the signing. A patriot leader in somewhat conservative Maryland, Paca (pronounced Pay-cah) helped bring the state to favor independence at Philadelphia. He raised funds for the war effort and later, as Congressman, worked to support veterans.
During the Constitutional debate, Paca was a firm believer in states rights and individual rights, and led the Antifederalist movement in Maryland.
“Even though he had many reservations, he voted in 1788 to approve the Constitution. He advocated 28 amendments to the Constitution, including those on freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and protection against judicial tyranny, and many of his proposed amendments became a part of the Bill of Rights.” [Source: The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration.]
He was twice married, but both wives died after childbirth, and Paca also fathered two children out of wedlock, one to a mixed race woman while serving in Philadelphia, according to the Society of the Descendants. He was later appointed a federal judge by President Washington, and was in that post at his death in 1799 at age 58. YES
–Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts) Overshadowed by two Adamses and Hancock, he was a minister turned attorney, 45-years-old at the signing, who had also been a sea captain on a whaler.
“In 1754, as Captain of the Seaflower, he led a whaling expedition from Cape Cod to Greenland and left behind what is believed to be the earliest illustrated log of a whaling venture kept by an American.” [Source: Society of the Descendants of the Signers]
He is perhaps best known as one of the prosecutors in the 1770 trial of the British soldiers charged in “Boston Massacre.” His friend and fellow delegate John Adams had served successfully as their defender. In 1780, he was among the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the first American groups dedicated to expanding scientific knowledge and learning. After the war, he remained active in Massachusetts politics, becoming the state’s Attorney General, and was named a state judge by John Hancock until his retirement in 1804 due to deafness. He died in 1814 at age 83. NO
–John Penn (North Carolina) A wealthy planter’s son who taught himself to read and write, he was a 36-year-old attorney at the signing. He remained in Congress and was one of the signers who also signed the first American constitution, the Articles of Confederation. He retired to private law practice and died in 1788 at age 48. YES
–George Read ( Delaware) Among the conservative delegates, he was a 42-year-old lawyer at the time of the signing but had voted against independence on July 2.He served in state offices until ill health forced his resignation. But he returned to Philadelphia to take part in the Constitutional convention and was leading voice for small states’ rights and led the ratification forces in Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution. Elected to the Senate, he resigned to take a judgeship in Delaware before his death in 1798 at age 65. YES
–Caesar Rodney (Delaware) Another self educated attorney, son of a planter, he was 47 at the signing. Rodney exemplifies the Great Contradiction of the Declaration, as he had earlier introduced legislation against the foreign slave trade:
“In 1766, as the Speaker of the [Delaware] Assembly, he introduced a bill to prohibit the importation of slaves into Delaware. At this time he was living in Byfield, a plantation of 1,000 acres, and owned 200 slaves. It is clear that he was pondering questions of the Colony’s and Mankind’s liberty and freedom. Indeed, at his death fourteen years later, he directed that all his slaves should be freed then, or shortly thereafter.” [Source: The Society of the Descendants]
He is perhaps best known for an 80-mile ride in a storm to break a deadlock that put Delaware in the Independence column –which cost him favor with conservatives in his home state. He later wrote in a letter:
“I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence . . . We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.” [Source: The Society of the Descendants]
One of the three bachelor signers (Francis Lee and Thomas Lynch were the others), he remained in the Congress until he became Delaware’s state president. A cancerous growth on his face was untreated and he covered it with a silk veil, worn for a decade before his death in 1784 at age 55. YES