It was early June 1776 and a group of elected representatives from up and down the Eastern Seaboard gathered in the Philadelphia Colonial Capital building – later to be known as Independence Hall and immortalized on the back of our $100 bill – for the express purpose of deciding whether they should declare war on England. They were, of course, all males because in those early days men were simply assumed, without any question, to be far more skilled in the “dirty” business of forging a nation.
I suppose you could call them “visionaries,” but I wouldn’t want to attribute too much of a spiritual quality to them; rather, they were practical-minded fellows with some unorthodox and untamed views of the world and their place in it and some silly philosophical ideas about personal freedom and individual rights. In general, they were quite wealthy – part of the colonial aristocracy, so to speak – with considerable property, both in real estate and black people. With the exception of Ben Franklin (1706-1790) and a few others, they were relatively young, in their 20s and 30s. Most assuredly, not all of them were the fine, upstanding, Christian gentlemen you might imagine.
For instance, the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) varied from day to day. At times he claimed to be an agnostic; he didn’t know if he believed in a god or not. Other times, he was a deist; that is, he believed in a remote, impersonal god. At any rate, he frequently denounced orthodox Christian churches in no uncertain terms. Furthermore, he conducted a lengthy affair with one of his black slaves, Sally Hemings and sired several bastard children. Whether this was an extramarital affair isn’t clear because it may have started after his wife’s death.
John Paine (1737-1809) also claimed to be a deist and challenged the Christian churches. His book, “Age of Reason,” is decidedly anti-Christian.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) had an extramarital affair with a married woman. His reputation suffered considerable damage among his constituents when the affair became public Old Ben spent many drunken nights in taverns from Williamsburg, Va., to New York City and all points in between, drinking pints of ale with his rebellious cronies. Still, it’s rumored he somehow found time to father several illegitimate children. (By some estimates, more than 20.)
Some of the more fiery leaders of the revolution were such live-for-the-moment adventurers they couldn’t relax when the war ended. They were professional rebels. John Paul Jones joined the Russian Navy and continued to fight one war or another, for one cause or another. Patrick “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” Henry ran off to France and joined that revolution. He was killed over there.
Anyway, in 1776, this band of aristocratic malcontents chose Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence, which was, of course, a declaration of war on England.
That same year, a barmaid in Hall’s Corner Tavern in New York City allegedly created the world’s first mixed drink. She garnished the concoction with the tail feather from a rooster. Thus it was called a “cocktail.” Her name is lost to the mists of time and that’s most unfortunate because her invention surely had a profound influence on many key players in American history. Indeed, on key players in world history. Given all the 20th-century political leaders who consumed a cocktail or two every day – Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, to name only a few – her invention certainly carried considerable historical clout.
Anyway, on Monday most of us will simply settle for a beer. A beer or two with an outdoor barbecue, weather permitting, and some backyard fireworks. Happy Fourth of July everyone!