Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

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Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Memorials to historic figures of national significance are commonplace in D.C., but the memorial I visited on this lunchtime bike ride is dedicated to one of the most select group of important people in our nation’s history. It is known as the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, it is located on the island in the lake located in Constitution Gardens, which occupies 50 prime acres of landscaped grounds approximately halfway between The Washington Monument and The Lincoln Memorial. Located to the west of 17th Street and south of Constitution Avenue in northwest D.C. (MAP), the gardens are bordered on the west by The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and on the south by The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. But despite its central location on the National Mall, it is a quiet haven in the heart of the bustling capital city.

The memorial was a gift from the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, and consists of 56 granite blocks which are inscribed with the signatures of the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. Each stone also contains the corresponding signer’s occupation and his home town. The signatures look just like the original pen and ink signatures which are on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. The granite blocks are then arranged in 13 groups, representing the 13 original states, and are grouped based on the home of the signer. It was designed by Landscape Architect Joseph E. Brown, approved by Congress in 1978, and construction was completed in 1984. It was then dedicated on July 2, 1984, exactly 208 years after the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

Although Thomas Jefferson is often considered to be the “author” of the Declaration of Independence, he wasn’t the only person who contributed to its content. Jefferson was a member of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write a Declaration of Independence. In addition to Jefferson, the Declaration Committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  However, one of the members of the committee, never signed it.  Livingston believed that it was too soon to declare independence and, therefore, refused to sign it.  So although he is one of its authors, Livingston was not included in this memorial.

After Jefferson completed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft, including shortening the overall length by more than a quarter. Jefferson was quite unhappy about some of the edits made to the original draft.  He had originally included language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade, even though Jefferson himself was a slave owner. This criticism of the slave trade was one of the portions removed from the final version, despite Jefferson’s objections.

Depending on perspective and how it was perceived at the time, the Declaration of Independence was considered to either form the foundation of a new, independent country, or as a document of treason against the King of England. And had events turned out differently, the only stones commemorating these “Founding Fathers” would have been their gravestones. But despite their success in launching the United States of America, many of these men paid a very steep price for signing the document and their involvement in the birth of this new nation.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, a number saw their homes and property occupied, ransacked, looted, and vandalized by the British. Some were captured by the British during the course of the Revolutionary War, and subjected to the ill treatment typically afforded to prisoners of war during their captivity. Others saw their sons captured or killed while serving in the Revolutionary Army. Some even saw their wives captured and jailed by the British. But despite what they would go on to sacrifice, each man, by signing the document, pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  It was this commitment that is honored in this memorial.

However, one of the signers, a lawyer from New Jersey named Richard Stockton, became the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to recant his support of the revolution. On November 30, 1776, he was captured by the British and thrown in jail. After months of harsh treatment and meager rations, Stockton repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III. A broken man when he regained his freedom, he took a new oath of loyalty to the state of New Jersey in December 1777, and again supported the Revolution until victory was achieved in September of 1783.  Despite once repudiating his signature and recanting his support for the Revolution, Stockton is nonetheless included on the memorial.

So this Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence does not include one of the authors of the Declaration, but does include a signer who later repudiated his signature.  I guess this just highlights how complex our “Founding Fathers” actually were.

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In addition to the famously prominent signature of John Hancock from Massachusetts, the President of the Continental Congress, the remaining signatories of the Declaration of Independence consisted of: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple and Matthew Thornton (who was the last man to sign the document, on November 4, 1776), all from the state of New Hampshire; Samuel Adams, John Adams (who later became the second President), Robert Treat Paine and Elbridge Gerry from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery from the state of Rhode Island; Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams and Oliver Wolcott from the state of Connecticut; William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis and Lewis Morris from the state of New York; Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart and Abraham Clark from the state of New Jersey; Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin (who, at the age of 70, was the oldest to sign the Declaration), John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson and George Ross, all from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; George Read, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean from the state of Delaware; Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, from the state of Maryland; George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson (who later became the third President), Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee and Carter Braxton from the Commonwealth of Virginia; William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and John Penn from the state of North Carolina; Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr. (who at 26 years old was the youngest person to sign), and Arthur Middleton from the state of South Carolina, and; Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton from the state of Georgia.

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Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski

Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski was born on March 6, 1745, in Warsaw, Poland, the oldest of three sons born to Count Józef Pułaski and Marianna Zielińska, who were members of the szlachta, an old and influential branch of the Polish aristocracy. Following in his father’s footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age, and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland. At the age of fifteen, he joined his father and other members of the szlachta in a conspiracy known as the Confederation of Bar, intended to free Poland from Russian and Prussian interference in Polish affairs.  In 1771 the Polish government implicated Pulaski in a plot to abduct Stanislaus II, the Russian-controlled king.  Accused of treason for his actions on behalf of Polish liberty, Pulaski travelled to Paris and sought protection in France. There he met Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, who induced him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolutionary War. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador to France, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolution, arriving in Philadelphia in 1777.

Upon his arrival Pulaski submitted his name to the Continental Congress for an officer’s commission. However, he was initially turned down.  So he unofficially joined General George Washington’s forces, and after saving his life at the Battle of Brandywine, was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Later that year Pulaski went on to fight at the Battle of Germantown, and then briefly stayed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. During the following spring, he briefly resigned his commission with the intent of returning to France. After being reinstated and sent to New York, Pulaski experienced a number of setbacks and once again decided to leave America. But events in Georgia kept Pulaski in the army and brought him to the South.

Pulaski distinguished himself throughout the revolution, and of all the Polish officers who took part in the American War for Independence, Pulaski was the most prominent. Of his many accomplishments, Pulaski is best known for having created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion, and reforming the American cavalry as a whole. In fact, along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy, they are known as the founding fathers of the American cavalry.

At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was mortally wounded by British cannon shot.  Pulaski’s enemies so respected him, however, that they spared him the musket and permitted him to be carried from the battlefield to the American camp.   James Lynah, the physician who treated Pulaski, claimed that he could have saved him if the general had remained in the American camp.  However, Pulaski insisted upon boarding a ship, and was taken aboard the Continental Brigantine Wasp.  Rumors about the exact cause of death and place of burial emerged after Pulaski’s death and continue to exist, but the standard account of what happened comes from Captain Paul Bentalou, who claimed that the general died of gangrene aboard the ship and was buried at sea.

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Freedom Plaza in northwest D.C., to see a bronze equestrian statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, which is located near the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP). The statue, by Polish sculptor Kazimierz Chodziński and Architect Albert R. Ross, shows a mounted figure of General Pulaski dressed in the uniform of a cavalry commander from his native Poland. It is part of a group of fourteen statues scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are collectively known as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski statue was dedicated on May 11, 1910. Just over 99 years later, Congress passed a joint resolution conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on Pulaski. It was sent to President Barack Obama for approval, and was signed on November 6, 2009. Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive the honor.  So the man who wanted to stay in Poland but was forced to leave, became a citizen of the United States, a country which he wanted to leave but where circumstances forced him to stay.  And although he failed to help lead the revolution in Poland, the statue honoring him for his participation in the American revolution depicts him wearing the uniform of Poland.

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Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square Park

Franklin Square is a park in northwest D.C., which is bounded by K Street to the north, 13th Street on the east, I Street on the south, and 14th Street on the west (MAP).  The downtown park slopes uphill from I Street to K Street, and is partially terraced.  Franklin Square Park also contains sufficient old growth trees to provide ample shade to visitors, a geometric system of concrete pathways for traversing the park in almost any direction, and a flagstone plaza with a large fountain in its middle.

The 4.79-acre park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is maintained by the National Park Service.  And while it is often assumed that it was named after Benjamin Franklin, there are no records or definitive proof to establish this.  However, Franklin Square is surrounded by a rich history, regardless of the origin of its name.  Across 13th Street on the east side of the square is the historic Franklin School, a National Historic Landmark, which was the scene of Alexander Graham Bell’s first wireless message.  On June 3, 1880, Bell sent a message over a beam of light to a window in a building at 1325 L Street using his newly invented Photophone.   Also, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross maintained a residence adjacent to the park at 1326 I Street, where she held the first official meeting of the relief organization in May of 1881.

Today the park is located in a lively and bustling area of downtown, and often hosts a nearly overflow crowd of employees taking a short break from their responsibilities, or enjoying a lunch obtained from one of the nearby eateries or the many food trucks that surround the park during the middle of the day.  The eclectic crowd utilizing the park can also include anyone or anything, from tourists who have strayed off their usual path, to older people practicing tai chi, and even a service for the homeless and others by the Church of the Epiphany every Tuesday.  There are also the many pigeons who will flock to anyone who purposefully, or sometimes unwillingly, feed them.  The entertainment value of the park makes it a good destination for a bike ride, and an ideal location for a mid-day respite.

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The U.S. Postal Service Headquarters

On this day I rode to the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters because on this day in 1792, President George Washington signed legislation creating the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS headquarters building is located in southwest D.C., at 475 L’Enfant Plaza (MAP).

In 1707, the British government established the position of Postmaster General to better coordinate postal service in the colonies. In 1737, a 31-year-old American colonist named Benjamin Franklin took over as Postmaster General. He was later fired for subversive acts on behalf of the rebellious colonies in 1774. Franklin then returned to America and helped create a rival postal system for the emerging nation. The next year he was reappointed postmaster general by himself and other Continental Congress members.

Although the Articles of Confederation written in 1781 authorized Congress to establish and regulate post offices from one State to another, the formation of an official U.S. Postal Service remained a work in progress until February 20, 1792, when President Washington formally created the U.S. Postal Service with the signing of the Postal Service Act. The act outlined in detail Congressional power to establish official mail routes. The act also made it illegal for postal officials to open anyone’s mail. In 1792, a young American nation of approximately 4 million people enjoyed federally funded postal services. The cost of sending a letter ranged from 6 cents to 12 cents. Under Washington, the Postal Service administration was headquartered in Philadelphia. Later, in 1800, it followed other federal agencies to the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C.

The Postal Service was transformed from a Federal agency into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971 following passage of the Postal Reorganization Act. Today, the modern USPS sorts and delivers more than 700 million pieces of mail each day, except Sunday. It has the nation’s largest retail network, which is larger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart in this country, combined. It is the nation’s 2nd largest civilian employer, with more than 211,000 employees. It has the world’s largest civilian fleet of vehicles, with approximately 212,000 cars and truck, at last count. The Postal Service also moves and delivers mail using planes, trains, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, float planes, hovercraft, mule, and by foot. There are even some routes in the country where the mail travels by bicycle.

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