July 4th: Viral YouTube Video Teaches Declaration of Independence

By Epoch Video
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July 3, 2014 Updated: July 3, 2014

Fireworks and festivities are fine, but a ‘real’ American ought to know a thing or two about the history behind the July 4th holiday right?

Well, this video narrated by Kenneth C. Davis teaches you all you need to know to be an intelligent, informed July 4th partygoer.

Key points include the following, all transcribed from channel TED-Ed’s video.

  • Thomas Jefferson gets the credit for writing the Declaration, but 5 men had been given the job to come up with a document explaining why America should be independent.
  • Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams were all named first, and it was Adams who suggested that the young, little-known Thomas Jefferson would join them, because they needed a man from the influential Virginia delegation, and Adams thought Jefferson was a much better writer than he was.
  • Though Jefferson never used footnotes or credited his sources, some of his memorable words and phrases were borrowed from other writers and slightly tweaked.
  • Then, Franklin, Adams offered a few suggestions, but the most important change came after the Declaration was turned over to the full Congress. For 2 days, a very unhappy Thomas Jefferson sat and fumed while his words were picked over.
  • In the end, the Congress made a few minor word changes and one big deletion.
  • In the long list of charges that Jefferson made against the king of England, the author of the Declaration had included the idea that George III was responsible for the slave trade, and was preventing America from ending slavery.
  • That was not only untrue, but Congress wanted no mention of slavery in the nation’s founding document. The reference was cut out before the Declaration was approved, and sent to the printer.
  • But it leaves open the hard question: How could the men, who were about to sign a document celebrating liberty and equality, accept a system where some people owned others?
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