Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776
Richard R. Beeman
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In Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor, acclaimed historian Richard R. Beeman examines the grueling twenty-two-month period between the meeting of the Continental Congress on September 5, 1774 and the audacious decision for independence in July of 1776. As late as 1774, American independence was hardly inevitable—indeed, most Americans found it neither desirable nor likely. When delegates from the thirteen colonies gathered in September, they were, in the words of John Adams, “a gathering of strangers.” Yet over the next two years, military, political, and diplomatic events catalyzed a change of unprecedented magnitude: the colonists’ rejection of their British identities in favor of American ones. In arresting detail, Beeman brings to life a cast of characters, including the relentless and passionate John Adams, Adams’ much-misunderstood foil John Dickinson, the fiery political activist Samuel Adams, and the relative political neophyte Thomas Jefferson, and with profound insight reveals their path from subjects of England to citizens of a new nation.
A vibrant narrative, Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor tells the remarkable story of how the delegates to the Continental Congress, through courage and compromise, came to dedicate themselves to the forging of American independence.
colony. At the same time, he ordered the Virginia militia to mobilize for war.18 By early December of 1775 more than 800 slaves, motivated by the prospect of freedom, had fled from their masters’ plantations and enlisted in Dunmore’s army. On December 9, Dunmore ordered a force of some 280 soldiers, including a significant number of “Volunteers and Blacks” to attack a small patriot militia force of seventy or eighty men led by Colonel William Woodford at Great Bridge, near Norfolk. It would
floor. But by this time the business of the Congress involved much more than voting. The Congress had, in effect, asserted its authority as a “continental government,” and a huge part of that authority involved overseeing an increasingly expanding war through the device of a multitude of committees. It was essential therefore that there be a sufficient supply of committee members to allow the Congress to carry out its responsibilities.23 Although attendance at the Congress continued to wane
Jacobson, John Dickinson, pp. 95–98. 17. Boyd, Jefferson Papers, 1: 188–189n. 18. Ibid., 1: 217; JCC, 2: 128–157. 19. JCC, 2: 127; John Adams to James Warren, July 6, 1775, Adams Papers, 3: 62; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, 1: 190n. 20. John Adams to James Warren, July 10, July 11, 1775, Adams Papers, 3: 70–72. 21. JCC, 2: 127. 22. Adams, Autobiography, 3: 318. 23. John Adams to James Warren, July 6, 1775, Adams Papers, 3: 62. 24. JCC, 2: 127, 158–162; Paul Leicester Ford, The
early date, but they would have emphatically denied it, and they realized that their best chance of bringing other delegates around to their way of thinking was to move cautiously. Sometime during the day on October 5, the delegates voted on the language of the post-1763 part of the petition, and by a narrow margin, six colonies in favor, five opposed, and Pennsylvania’s delegation deadlocked, the Congress reached a fragile consensus. Most of the delegations had members voting on both sides of
Dickinson’s final draft, endorsed and signed by the delegates on October 26, wished “your majesty . . . every felicity through a long and glorious reign over loyal and happy subjects,” emphasizing that the delegates’ most “sincere and fervent prayer” was that “your descendants may inherit your prosperity and dominions ‘till time shall be no more.’”1 John Adams argued at the time that Dickinson went too far in his expressions of love and affection for the British sovereign, but, as later events