On August 10, 1776, news reaches London that the Americans had drafted the Declaration of Independence.
Until the Declaration of Independence formally transformed the 13 British colonies into states, both Americans and the British saw the conflict centered in Massachusetts as a local uprising within the British empire. To King George III, it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, when Parliament continued to oppose any reform and remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead hired Hessians, German mercenaries, to help the British army crush the rebellion, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence from the British monarchy. It sold more than 500,000 copies in just a few months. By the spring of 1776, support for independence had swept through the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a document declaring independence from the British king.
The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other British theorists. The declaration features the immortal lines “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It then goes on to present a long list of grievances that provided the American rationale for rebellion.
George Washington Creates the Purple Heart Medal
August 7, 1782
On this day in 1782, in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, creates the “Badge for Military Merit,” a decoration consisting of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged with a narrow binding of silver, with the word Merit stitched across the face in silver. The badge was to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action” and permitted its wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge. The honoree’s name and regiment were also to be inscribed in a “Book of Merit.”
Washington’s “Purple Heart” was awarded to only three known soldiers during the Revolutionary War: Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell, Jr. The “Book of Merit” was lost, and the decoration was largely forgotten until 1927, when General Charles P. Summerall, the U.S. Army chief of staff, sent an unsuccessful draft bill to Congress to “revive the Badge of Military Merit.” In 1931, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, took up the cause, hoping to reinstate the medal in time for the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. On February 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday, the U.S. War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart.”
In addition to aspects of Washington’s original design, the new Purple Heart also displays a bust of Washington and his coat of arms. The Order of the Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war.
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Compatriots and Friends of the SAR,
Our monthly meeting is tomorrow and our guest of honor is President General Lary Guzy. He’s on his way back home after our National Congress in Houston and has graciously accepted our invitation to meet with us before he leaves. Please come by and support our chapter and meet the President General. If you have a Continental uniform please wear it to our meeting. If not, come as you normally come and we will see you there!
On this day in 1789, only one day after the fall of the Bastille marked the beginning of a new revolutionary regime in France, the French aristocrat and hero of the American War for Independence, Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, becomes the colonel-general of the National Guard of Paris by acclamation. Lafayette served as a human link between America and France in what is sometimes known as The Age of Revolutions.
At the age of 19, the young Frenchman’s willingness to volunteer his services without pay won the American Congess’ respect and Lafayette a commission as a major-general in the Continental Army on July 31, 1777. Lafayette served in the battle at Brandywine in 1777, as well as at Barren Hill, Monmouth and Rhode Island in 1778. Following the formal treaty of alliance with Lafayette’s native France in February 1778 and Britain’s subsequent declaration of war against France, Lafayette asked to return to Paris and consult the king as to his future service. Washington was willing to spare Lafayette, who departed in January 1779. By March, Benjamin Franklin reported from Paris that Lafayette had become an excellent advocate for the American cause at the French court. Following his six-month respite in France, Lafayette returned to aid the American war effort in Virginia, where he participated in the successful siege of Yorktown in 1781, before returning to France and the further service of his own country. That service involved bringing many of the ideals of the American Revolution to France.
On July 11, 1789, Lafayette proposed a declaration of rights to the French National Assembly that he had modeled on the American Declaration of Independence. Lafayette’s refusal to support the escalation of violence known as the Reign of Terror—that followed the French royal family’s attempt to flee the country in 1791 resulted in his imprisonment as a traitor from 1792 to 1797. Lafayette returned to military service during the French Revolution of 1830. He died in Paris four years later, where he was buried among many of his noble friends executed during the Reign of Terror at the Cimetière de Picpus.