June 11, 2015

It Happened on June 11th

Committee of Five Appointed to Write Declaration of Independence, 1776

The Committee of Five presenting their work to the Congress.

The Second Continental Congress appointed the Committee of Five for the purpose of drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Committee operated from June 11, 1776 until July 5, 1776, when the Declaration was published.

The Congress hadn't quite decided yet whether or not they were going to declare independence from England, but if they did, they wanted to be ready. Resolutions had been proposed: on April 12th by North Carolina, and on May 15th by Virginia. On June 7th, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had moved for independence, but the vote had not been taken. The Congress was to reconvene on in July, and they'd vote on it then. If it passed, they needed to have a statement ready to declare to the world why they were asserting their independence.

The members of the committee were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. We don't know exactly how the work progressed because the Committee of Five didn't leave minutes, and, although Jefferson and Adams both wrote about the experience later, the accounts weren't exactly the same. What we do know is that Jefferson was appointed to write the first draft. The first draft was very close to the finished product -- only a few minor changes were made. It was first read to the Continental Congress on June 28th, just 17 days later.

On July 1st the Congress voted for independence, and then heard a second reading of the Declaration before they adjourned. On July 2nd, they heard it a third time, and this time they paid particular attention to the language. Only two changes were made. The first was the elimination of some rather derogatory reference to the English people. The second was Jefferson's condemnation of the slave trade.

The final draft was approved on July 4th, and then recopied and delivered to the printer. The printer's broadsheet was completed and released on July 5th.

I assume that most of you know a lot about Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. But who were the other two patriots on the Committee of Five?

Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman was born in Massachusetts, but moved to Connecticut at the age of 50. He was largely self-educated. His first career was as a shoemaker, but he later opened a shop, and later still, became a lawyer. He was the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut. He also taught theology, and he was the treasurer of Yale College. Sherman is remarkable in that he is the only person to sign all four of the great documents of our history: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.

Robert Livingston
Robert Livingston hailed from New York. He was the first Chancellor of New York and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Continental Congress. It was Livingston who administered the oath of office to George Washington when he assumed the Presidency in 1789. Livingston also served as the US Minister to France in the years 1801 to 1804. It was Livingston who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with the French government. He called it "the noblest work of our whole lives...The United States take rank this day among the first powers of the world."

Three Prisoners Escape from Alcatraz, 1962

Alcatraz Island    ©Centpacrr/Wikimedia Commons

The authorities like to say that there's never been a successful escape from Alcatraz. That's not quite accurate -- what is true is that there's never been an escape that we know has been successful.

Frank Morris
In 1962 there were four men in Alcatraz who planned a complicated escape. They had been working on it for six months. With the help of a homemade drill -- which they'd built out of a vacuum cleaner motor -- they removed panels from their cells, which allowed them into a utility corridor. When their escape panels weren't in use, they covered them up with whatever they had handy. From the corridor they climbed to the roof of their cell block, still inside the building. There they'd set up a workshop.

In their workshop, they manufactured life preservers and a 6 x 14 foot life boat, using 50 raincoats for materials. (After stitching them together they even "vulcanized" them, using the steam pipes for heat.) They used a concertina to inflate the boat. They built plywood paddles.

John Anglin
They also found a way out of the prison. Climbing pipes up a 30-foot ventilator shaft, they were able to get onto the roof through a ventilator panel. They carved a fake bolt out of soap to replace the one that had been holding the panel in place.

Clarence Anglin
On the night of June 11, 1962, they were ready to go. They'd already created fake heads to place in their beds to delay discovery. They'd created them out of toilet paper and soap, and painted them with materials from the prison art shop. They even had human hair -- fresh from the barbershop.

The three men who escaped were Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin. The Anglins were brothers, both serving 20-year sentences for bank robbery. Morris had committed a variety of crimes, including narcotics dealing and armed robbery. He'd been sent to Alcatraz because he kept escaping from everywhere else. The fourth man in the plan was Allen West. He couldn't quite get his ventilator grill open in time, and the others left without him. It's thanks to West that we know so much of how the escape was planned.

Morris's dummy head
No one actually knows what happened to the three escapees. They were never captured, but there's been no sign that they survived either. The plan was for them to steal a car and rob a clothing store when they got to the mainland, but no such thefts were reported. Debris was found in the bay that could have come from their boat. The water would have been between 50 and 54 degrees (the prison kept their showers nice and hot so the men couldn't acclimatize themselves) and the tide would have been against them.

It's generally believed that the three men didn't survive their escape. The FBI launched what was the biggest manhunt of its time, but finally abandoned the case in 1979. It's still an open case for the US Marshals Service, however, and they still get a lead from time to time.

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