Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

The Declaration of Independence

When Henry arrived at Philadelphia, the Congress was already in session.

One of the new delegates was Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, who had just returned from London and knew all about the king and his Parliament.

Another new delegate was John Hancock, of Massachusetts, who told of the battles of Concord and Lexington.

The very day that Henry took his seat news came from the north that Colonel Ethan Allen had captured Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain, with a large amount of arms and ammunition.

It was decided that the colonies must be put in a state of defence.

There was much to be done. Ships were to be built, cities on the coast to be fortified, treaties made with the Indians, and more appeals sent in to the king. It was agreed to raise troops from all the colonies, and George Washington was made commander-in-chief of the colonial army.

Patrick Henry was glad that his friend had been honored with such a high office.

Yet he knew that it was a great risk to head a rebellion against the king.

Washington knew this, too. He wanted to be loyal to the king, but he felt he must fight for the rights belonging to all English subjects.

His eyes were full of tears as he clasped Henry by the hand and said: "I fear this day will begin the decline of my reputation."

He soon left Philadelphia to take command of the American troops at Cambridge.

When Congress was adjourned, Henry and the other delegates from Virginia returned home to meet in a convention.

The governor had fled to a British ship, and so a committee was appointed to rule in his stead. Then it was decided to raise troops in the colony, and Patrick Henry was made commander-in-chief.

Soldiers hurried from every county in Virginia to the camping ground at Williamsburg. There were trappers in buckskin, and hunters in green shirts, and rich planters in fine uniforms. There was the sound of fife and drum, and banners were seen everywhere. Governor Dunmore called the Whigs rebels, and summoned Tories, Negroes, and Spaniards to fight them.

But before the troops came to battle, Patrick Henry resigned command. He was needed in the colonial convention at Williamsburg.

The convention met on the 6th of May, 1776.

Among the new delegates was James Madison. He was just twenty-five years old. He was a great scholar, but he was so shy that he did not attract much attention in his first debate.

Another new delegate was Edmund Randolph. He was twenty-three years old. His father was a Tory, and had sailed away to England, but young Randolph remained in America to help fight for liberty.

James Madison and Edmund Randolph listened with delight to Patrick Henry's speeches.

They said he seemed like a pillar of fire, which was leading the convention through the night of despair.

When the orator proposed that the colonies should declare themselves free from Great Britain, most of the delegates were convinced that this was the only thing to do.

And so, on the 15th of May, the Virginians resolved to instruct their delegates in Congress at Philadelphia to propose a declaration of independence.

The British flag was taken down from the staff on the capitol, and a Continental flag was hoisted with thirteen bars for the thirteen colonies.

Then Patrick Henry and some others wrote out a constitution for the state of Virginia.

You know that every state in these days has a written constitution, but in those days most of the states had charters granted by the king.

It was agreed that Virginia should have a Senate and a House of Representatives to make the laws which the people wanted, a governor who should enforce the laws, and judges who should preside in the courts.

The constitution of Virginia seemed so wise that it became a model for the other states.

On June 7th, Richard Henry Lee, one of the Virginia delegates, offered the resolution in Congress that the "United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states."

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence,  and after a long debate it was signed on the 4th of July, 1776.

And when the news reached Williamsburg, bells rang, bonfires blazed in the streets, and powder sizzled and spluttered in the gutters. It was the very first Fourth of July celebration in Virginia.