Saturday, July 4, 2009
Independence Day 2009
Independence Day 2009, in the blogosphere reveals the scope that the social media has advanced in providing commentary and information to everyone who has access to the Internet.
Back in 1776, word of the adopting and signing of the Declaration of Independence was spread by dispatch riders who would announce the news in each hamlet and town they passed through. Almost every town had a publisher who as a side line to his regular business would publish a pamphlet or newsletter to be read and distributed around the community. These pamphlets would be read aloud in taverns for the benefit of those who could not read as a way of engaging in raucous debate.
After Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4, a handwritten copy was sent a few blocks away to the printing shop of John Dunlap. Through the night between 150 and 200 copies were made, now known as "Dunlap broadsides". Before long, the Declaration was read to audiences and reprinted in newspapers across the thirteen states. The first official public reading of the document was by John Nixon in the yard of Independence Hall on July 8; public readings also took place on that day in Trenton, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania. A German translation of the Declaration was published in Philadelphia by July 9.
President of Congress John Hancock sent a broadside to General George Washington, instructing him to have it proclaimed "at the Head of the Army in the way you shall think it most proper". Washington had the Declaration read to his troops in New York City on July 9, with the British forces not far away. Washington and Congress hoped the Declaration would inspire the soldiers, and encourage others to join the army. After hearing the Declaration, crowds in many cities tore down and destroyed signs or statues representing royalty. An equestrian statue of King George in New York City was pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.
British officials in North America sent copies of the Declaration to Great Britain. It was published in British newspapers beginning in mid-August; translations appeared in European newspapers soon after. The North ministry did not give an official answer to the Declaration, but instead secretly commissioned pamphleteer John Lind to publish a response, which was entitled Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress.  Thomas Hutchinson, the former royal governor of Massachusetts, also published a rebuttal. These pamphlets challenged various aspects of the Declaration. Hutchinson argued that the American Revolution was the work of a few conspirators who wanted independence from the outset, and who had finally achieved it by inducing otherwise loyal colonists to rebel. Lind's pamphlet included an anonymous attack on the concept of natural rights written by Jeremy Bentham, an argument he would repeat during the French Revolution. Both pamphlets asked how slave owners in Congress could proclaim that "all men are created equal" without then freeing their own slaves.
Today in the electronic media age we are moving beyond the narrow aspect of information filtered and directed by mainstream sources whose size and influence would boggle the imagination of the Founding Fathers. This past month we have been reminded of the role that social media in the form of blogs, and outlets like Twitter and Facebook have come to play in reporting events as they unfold. The world was able to watch green clad Iranians demonstrate and die as they protested an election that reasonable people would find was a fraud.
Imagine what the world and even the average Englishman at home in London would have thought if they were able to view the opening shots of our American Revolution in Boston in 1770 or at Lexington Green in 1775 via a Twitter link. Would open war have been averted? Of course this is too counter-factual to qualify given the differences in temperament and the conditions, IE, an armed citizenry able to resist.
In honor of this day here is a look at how my fellow bloggers have chosen to honor this day.
Independence Day and From Our Archive: The Spirit of Independence Dedicated To Those Who Dare by United States Naval Institute Blog
What I’ve Learned About Blogging So Far by It's The Tribes Stupid! to illustrate the value of social media in a free society.
And to remind us that America is a work in progress. Freedom to Steal and The Evils of Democracy by Committee of Public Safety
Enjoy this day by taking the time to peruse the thoughts assembled above, much in the manner of our fellow citizens took the time out of their daily lives to consider the news that had just arrived from Philadelphia in 1776.