July 1,  2011

Details of Caesar Rodney's ride
not as well known as you'd think

Although Caesar Rodney is by far the best known historic figure in Delaware, surprisingly few Delawareans can give an accurate account of his role in achieving American Independence.

Here is how it happened:

On or about June 30, 1776, Congress assembled in Philadelphia, debated a motion by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: "RESOLVED that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

With a vote on adopting the resolution looming, the three-man Delaware delegation was divided. Thomas McKean and Caesar Rodney favored Independence; George Read was opposed. According to their instructions form the Assembly in Dover, the trio was to "consult and determine upon such measures a might appear most wise for the colonies to adopt."

As it happened, Rodney was absent when the delegates took up Lee's resolution. He had gone to Sussex County were a group of Tories was reported to have taken up arms. As brigadier general of the militia, his duty was to disarm them.

McKean grew anxious as the time for voting on Independence neared. He dispatched a messenger to fetch Rodney.

On July1, nine delegations were known to be favorable to Independence, three opposed -- Delaware, Pennsylvania and South Carolina -- and one -- New York -- awaiting instructions. The presiding officer, John Hancock of Massachusetts, wanted an unanimous vote, so he postponed voting until the next day. That is a familiar parliamentary tactic which allows for a bit of overnight arm-twisting. In that case, it worked to a point. The Pennsylvania and South Carolina delegations agreed to go along. New York still wouldn't vote 'yes', but agreed not to vote 'no',

That left Delaware.

Meanwhile, the messenger caught up with Caesar Rodney in Dover. He saddled his horse and took off.

The ride began during the afternoon of July 1. There are some 75 to 80 miles between Dover and Philadelphia -- the same now as then, but we're not exactly sure how the road ran before Interstate 95 and Delaware 1 came along. We'- re pretty sure that Rodney left Dover on horseback, but historians agree that somewhere along the way he pickup a carriage from a friend living along the route.

There was a thunderstorm that night. McKean later described Rodney as having arrived at midday on July 2 "in boots and spurs" an hour or two before the decisive vote.

John Munroe in his History of Delaware points out that Rodney's vote didn't affect the actual outcome. That already had been determined.

Delaware did not cast the decisive vote -- no one did. Delaware's vote did produce an unanimous count , 12 -- not 13 -- to nil. The New York delegation was not in the hall  -- another well-used parliamentary stratagem. The vote did put Delaware on the record as favoring Independence though.

Lee's resolution was adopted; the rest, as they say, is history.

It was two days later, on July 4, 1776, that the delegates approved -- also unanimously, with New York joining in the vote that time -- the Declaration drafted by Thomas Jefferson and a committee explaining eloquently and in detail why they had taken the action. Rodney, McKean and Read all signed the official parchment copy on Aug. 2.

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