America’s First “Declaration of Independence” – Our Grass-Roots Revolution – By Daniel Sheridan (Twitter:@DanielWSheridan) #OTD #AmericanHistory #DeclarationOfIndependence
#OnThisDay, May 20, 1775, the first Colonial Declaration of Independence was written, or was it?
On May 20, 1775, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is claimed to have been signed in Charlotte, NC. It’s said to be the first “Declaration of Independence” written during the American Revolution. Wikipedia declares that:
“It was supposedly signed on May 20, 1775, at Charlotte, North Carolina, by a committee of citizens of Mecklenburg County, who declared independence from Great Britain after hearing of the battle of Lexington.”
But even though the authenticity of this document is disputed, the spirit behind it isn’t. Let me explain.
When we think about the revolution we usually think about the great gathering in Philadelphia in 1776, the Declaration of Independence, and the names of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and Adams. But that meeting wasn’t the beginning of the Revolution; it was an end result of many previous movements and ideas.
When people of that day thought about independence, they didn’t think about it in terms of the nation, but in terms of their own commonwealth. In other words, what took place in Philadelphia was the result of a grassroots movement, a local-level movement. It was a bottom-up movement, not a top down movement.
Between April and July of 1776 over 90 “Declarations of Independence” were written by townships and counties throughout the States. Think about that – there were over 90 local declarations written the three months before Jefferson wrote on his hallowed parchment. The revolution wasn’t the creation of the Continental Congress; it wasn’t a central government plan.
America is the product of town meetings. The 150 plus years before the revolution saw the freest and most popular government in the world. There wasn’t a place on earth where there was so much free discussion among common people about public concerns. The English statesman, Edmund Burke, marveled as he observed America claiming that nowhere else in the world is there such a “fierce spirit of liberty.”
This fierce spirit of liberty began with individuals and townships. Townships are the smallest units of government, yet they produced the largest benefit – the Revolution.
The town meeting was a lively gathering where serious discussions were had. The main business of it was to legislate for the town. Prior to the revolution it was in these meetings where parliamentary law was developed and political skills were tested and matured. The town meeting was the training ground for statesmen because it forced them to discuss issues rationally, thoughtfully, and patiently. Out of these meetings came the leading men of the Revolution, men like Samuel Adams who was called “the man of the town meeting.”
During the Stamp Act days town meetings were the main sources of protest. For instance, during the Stamp Act trouble, the Cambridge town meeting instructed its representatives to do everything in their power to repeal the act. Then they wished,
“…that this vote may be recorded in the Town Book, that the children yet unborn may see the desires that their ancestors had for their freedom and happiness.”
Think about that. This was not a national directive, it was a local one. The people in the town wanted posterity to know what the Town did to preserve the freedom and happiness of unborn generations.
On this day, May 20, 1775, the first “Declaration of Independence” may or may not have been made in Mecklenburg, North Carolina. It probably wasn’t. But what we do know for certain is that on April 13, 1776, North Carolina became the first State to instruct its delegates to take part in the Continental Congress declaring independence. So even if the May 20th event isn’t true, the spirit behind it is.
The American Revolution wasn’t a top-down central government directive; it was a bottom-up grass roots movement.