We Your Constituents
Everyone may remember Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, but Plymouth residents had their say in declaring independence from England as well.
Every school child learns that Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in the hot summer of 1776. That he wrote, “We the People…” and presented it to the Continental Congress who signed it, some large enough so King George could read it without his glasses, on July 4, 1776. From there, it was promptly sent to England a symbol of this fledgling country’s righteous anger at being taxed as a British citizen with none of the privileges therein such as representation in Parliament. It was an act that changed the destiny of this country and inspired the peoples of countless others to whip off their oppressors and forge their own governments. It is more than just a reason to celebrate with fireworks on the beaches of Plymouth: It is the founding document of our country, the thought and sentiment that transformed us from a British colony to a country of our own. Part of what makes it so important is that it was also a tremendous act of democracy. It was created and signed by the fifty-six members of the Continental Congress, already themselves moving towards independence with a mandate from the states they represented and from the towns and communities of that state.
They had, too, the support of Town of Plymouth. On May 20,1776, at a meeting of the “Town of Plimouth assembled at the Court house,” the assembly had ahead of them some urgent business.
First representatives were chosen to represent them at the state level. Then a proposal to invite, a speaker, Rev. Mr. Silvanus Conant, to preach in commemoration of the Pilgrim landing, that following December, was heard. The body next considered the repayment of a debt, they considered the problem of persons catching herrings “neere” Billington Sea. Then they adjourned until the next day as if the most important matter of business did not lie ahead.
When reconvened, their business proceeded to a letter to James Warren and Isaac Lothrop, whom they had chosen to represent Plymouth in the Great & General Court. The letter requested that the pair should work to represent the interests of Plymouth in that court and that, “We Your Constituents resenting such Insolent & Notoriously unjust demands of the Brittish Parliament & of their Tyrannic King do Instruct you. 1st That you without Hesitation be ready to declare for Independence on Great Brittain in whom no Confidence Can be Placed Provided the Honourable Continental Congress shall think that measure necessary and we for our parts do assure you that we will stand by the Determination of the Continentall Congress in this Important & as we think Very Necessary measure at the Risque of our lives & fortunes [sic].” A vote was called and was passed unanimously. The assembled group then moved onto a matter of taxes. The minutes of this meeting are recorded in “Records of the Town of Plymouth v.3 1743-1783.”
Every schoolchild learns of the greatness of the founding fathers, their deeds lifted high on pedestals, their own lives and fortunes at “Risque.” But it is something indeed more awesome to know that they stood on the shoulders of towns such as our own, of those who would bear the privations and perils of war and who still voted in the affirmative to declare their independence. That it is a moment taken out of the business of running a town, to see the wider world. And ultimately, that it was not only the John Hancocks and Benjamin Franklins, it was also the John Torreys and the William Watsons of the time who led us to freedom.