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
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,
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."
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
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',
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
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.