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Today in History: September 9, 1776 – United States Officially Named

245 years ago today, the Continental Congress officially names their new union the United States of America.

 “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.”

Meeting in Carpenter’s Hill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the 56 delegates of the Continental Congress met to find a new for the union of the colonies. Important members of the Congress included Colonel George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Adams, his cousin Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, Peyton Randolph, and Joseph Galloway. 

1776 – Congress renames the nation … – History Bytez

“That in all continental commissions, and other instruments, where, heretofore, the words ‘United Colonies’ have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the “United States.”

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Patrick Henry

To go with the latest American History post, we have a Patrick Henry biography.

Patrick Henry was born on Mary 29, 1736 in Hanover Country, Virginia on a plantation belonging to his mother’s family. His father was a Scottish immigrant. He was the 2nd oldest of nine children. Growing up, he played the fiddle and the flute. Most of his early schooling was done by his father and his uncle, the latter of whom also taught him about the great oratory Henry was later known for. But he taught himself law. “In 1760, he appeared in Williamsburg to take his attorney’s examination before Robert Carter Nicholas, Edmund Pendleton, John and Peyton Randolph, and George Wythe” (Source). Patrick Henry’s fate was officially intertwined with American and Virginian history.

Henry spent the next five years practicing as a lawyer, and a powerful one at that. A well-known case took place in 1763, the Parson’s Case. Here, Henry argued against a minister who sued for back pay when King George III had changed the payment law. The man had won his case, but Henry called him greedy and had managed to persuade the jury to only grant him a penny, the lowest award possible

Image result for Patrick HenryBy 1765, Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses. There, as we learned earlier, he was “an early voice of dissent against Britain’s colonial policies,” speaking out against the Stamp Act in his “If This Be Treason . . .” speech (Source).

Then, in 1774, he was selected to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Here, he had Sam Adams fueled the fires of American rebellion.

Henry sounded the call to arms, saying, “Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? … Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Furthermore, he urged all Virginians to arm themselves in self-defense.

Once the Revolution was good and underway, Henry was made the commander-in-chief of Virginia’s forces. He only served for six months. In 1776, having decided to focus on statesmanship instead, Henry helped write Virginia’s constitution. He was also elected as the state’s first ever governor.

Image result for Patrick Henry birthplaceWorried that a strong federal government would only lead to more tyranny, only this time from their own government, Henry refused an appointment to the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. He did not support the original draft of the Constitution; not until the Bill of Rights was added, that is. He feared that it would take away state’s rights.

In 1790, Henry left public office in favor of returning to law. Despite being offered numerous government positions – such as Supreme Court Justice, Attorney General, or Secretary of State, he turned them all down. At this point he life, Henry much preferred the company of his wife and children.

So, he spent out the rest of his life at his estate, Red Hill in Charlotte Country, Virginia. By 1799, thanks to President Washington, Henry had accepted a seat in the Virginia Legislature. However, he would never serve. He died on June 6, 1799, at home. He may never have been president, but he is still remembered as one of the greatest revolutionary leaders.

[Below: Red Hill]

Image result for Patrick Henry Red Hill

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The Albany Congress

From June 19 to July 11, 1754 in Albany, New York, delegates sent from  7 colonies (Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire) discussed the “security and defense against the French.” (Source). Sensing that a war between the French and the North Americans was inevitable, the delegates hoped to work out defense measures and “cement the loyalty of the Iroquois Confederacy” by improving relations between the two groups (Source). The commission, however, was not the idea of the colonies, but of the British Government, itself. See, they were struggling to successfully negotiate with the Mohawk nation, which was part of the Iroquois Confederation.

The Iroquois or the “Six Nations” had thus far been a bit hesitant to side with either the British or the French.

Their plan?

Side with whichever side won the war!

However, the Albany officials were eventually able to convince them to side with the British in exchange for supplies and weapons.

This was the main purpose of the congress – as far as Britain was concerned. But the colonies had a second goal: A plan of unity. “Benjamin Franklin and Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson drafted a proposal for colonial unity” (Source), calling for new layers of government. In particular, they pushed for implementing a president-general who would be appointed by the Crown, but would “exercise broad powers over relationships with the natives, making war, and governing the frontier areas until new colonies were created” (Source). They additionally proposed a grand council, whose members would be appointed by the colonies. These members would be chosen “according to their financial contribution through taxes that were paid for the organization” (Source). The delegates would meet once a year and elections for the council would be done once every three years.

[Below: The Albany Congress delegates.]

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Unfortunately, the Franklin-Hutchinson Albany Plan of Union never became a reality. While the members of the Albany Congress all agreed, not a single colonial assembly would ratify it. The various colonial governments were afraid that this new form of government would “curb their own authority” and they didn’t want to risk losing their power, commerce, or territory. Even if they had been willing to go along with the plan, it is hard to imagine that the Royals in England would have agreed.

However, the proposition was immensely important. After all, this proposal foreshadowed their later unification. It served as a model for the colonists’ later attempts. “It attempted to establish the division between the executive and legislative branches of government, while establishing a common governmental authority to deal with external relations. More importantly, it conceived of the colonies of mainland North America as a collective unit, separate not only from the mother country, but also from the other British colonies in the West Indies and elsewhere” (Source).

It was not the first attempt at centralizing the colonial governments. Several tentative plans had been put forth by various intellectuals and government officials in the colonies. In fact, both sides of the pond saw this as a positive outcome – though for very different reasons. “The Imperial officials saw the advantages of bringing the colonies under closer authority and supervision, while colonists saw the need to organize and defend common interests” (Source). The leading man in these attempts was none other than Benjamin Franklin. He had previously written friends about his idea for a voluntary union of the colonies.

And, as soon as he received word about the upcoming Albany Congress, he published the political cartoon, “Join or Die” in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. The cartoon “illustrated the importance of union by comparing the colonies to pieces of a snake’s body” (Source). Appointed as the Pennsylvanian commissioner to the Congress, Franklin saw his opportunity to take action. He wrote letters to several New York commissioners, outlining his scheme for uniting the “Northern Colonies by means of an act of British Parliament” (Source).

Even then, a colonial council was created by the Board of Trade in London, who appointed General Edward Braddock as military commander in chief. Here, each colony would send forth one representative, and together, the council body would be “responsible for raising militia forces and apportioning the cost among membership” (Source). The colonies were not thrilled with this idea, as they thought that the battles should be fought and the money should be raised by the British.

This set-up was still important, though, as it foreshadowed the Continental Congress.

[Below: Franklin’s “Join or Die” political cartoon.]

Image result for The Albany Congress

Up Next: Too Many Acts: Four Acts That Led to the American Revolution

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