Angel in the Whirlwind — part 2

March 4, 2009 at 10:09 am | Posted in Books and Movies | 1 Comment

Here are some more thoughts from Benson Bobrick’s Angel in the Whirlwind, from the chapter on the Declaration of Independence.  After Thomas Jefferson wrote the document and presented it to the Continental Congress, the delegates went over the document word by word.  “Justly proud of his composition, Jefferson was appalled when his colleagues began changing words and phrases and making drastic cuts.”  They debated for three days, from July 2 to July 4, 1776.  After a brief summary of the great phrases that the Congress kept intact, Bobrick comments:

All this was important.  But it is the preamble to the declaration that made it the immortal document that it is:  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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.  Thankfully, these lines emerged from the stern editorial scrutiny of the delegates unchanged.

Nevertheless, Jefferson remained indignant about the revisions for the rest of his life.  In all, close to a hundred changes were made and the text cut by about a fourth.  Adams himself believed that Congress, while making some judicious emendations, had also “obliterated some of the best of it.”  Richard Henry Lee was likewise sorry to see many of the phrases go.  “I wish sincerely, as well for the honor of Congress, as for that of the States,” he later wrote to Jefferson, “that the manuscript had not been mangled as it is.  However, the Thing in its nature is so good that no cookery can spoil the dish for the palates of free men,”

And who could deny it?   (page 200)


A few pages later Bobrick, in the passage which gives the book its name, adds these thoughts:

Those who afterward lined up to sign the document (on August 22) had reason to be uneasy.  They knew the peril and penalty of treason and were signing, as it were, with halters about their necks.  John Hancock, as president of Congress, wrote his name first.  “We must be unanimous,” he reportedly declared.  “There must be no pulling different ways, we must all hang together.”  “Yes,” replied Franklin, “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  .  .  . 

Yet there was also an overriding and mystical feeling of providential cover to the boldness of their act.  As John Page, a Virginia statesman, put it rather beautifully to Jefferson two weeks after the declaration was adopted, “God preserve the United States.  We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the Strong.  Do you think an Angel rides in the Whirlwind and directs this Storm?”  (page 202)

I am thankful for the men who “lined up to sign the document.”  They put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line, and freedom has never looked the same.  I suppose an Angel really did direct the storm they rode.


1 Comment »

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  1. And may we be willing to risk to preserve our freedoms, both as Americans and as Christians.

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