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Rapid-Fire History: The Declaration of Independence is Read to the Troops


On the evening of Tuesday, July 9, 1776, the American Revolution took on a whole new meaning for the thousands of Continental soldiers who had followed General George Washington from Boston to defend New York City from an imminent British invasion. Ordered by their Commander-in-Chief to gather on the Commons, now City Hall Park, and other parade grounds in Lower Manhattan, the troops were read aloud a document that would change their lives and America’s destiny forever, the Declaration of Independence. Washington’s order of the day for July 9 provided a preview of the immortal words contained within the document, explaining that the Continental Congress had declared “the United Colonies of North America” to be “free and independent states.” When the Declaration itself “was read at the head of each brigade,” according to Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb, it “was received by three huzzahs by the troops.” For Washington, the “hearty assent” of his men and their “warmest approbation” of Independence was uplifting. Now engaged in a fight for the birth of a new nation, many American soldiers could hardly contain their enthusiasm.

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, “The formal readings concluded, a great mob of cheering, shouting soldiers and townspeople stormed down Broadway to Bowling Green, where, with ropes and bars, they pulled down the gilded lead statue of George III on his colossal horse.” After decapitating the statue of the king of Great Britain, Washington biographer Ron Chernow notes that the crowd proceeded to parade “the head around town to the lilting beat of fifes and drums.” McCullough adds that what remained of the head was mounted “on a spike outside a tavern.” The four thousand pounds of gilded lead in the statue were melted down by the Americans and helped to create 42,088 bullets.

Pulling down the statue of King George III. (Photo Credit: National Archives)

To bring forth this new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, American independence still had to be won on the battlefield. The trials ahead would try men’s souls. Throughout every moment of defeat and despair that followed, George Washington and his faithful fighters would never give up, going on to the very end until the hopes and dreams of their young nation were fully realized.

Sources

1776 by David McCullough.

George Washington's Mount Vernon: Declaration of Independence.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.

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