On the fourth day of the following July there was a great stir in the town of Philadelphia. Congress was sitting in the Hall of the State House. The streets were full of people; everybody seemed anxious; everybody was in suspense.
Men were crowding around the State House and listening.
"Who is speaking now?" asked one.
"John Adams," was the answer.
"And who is speaking now?"
"Good! Let them follow his advice, for he knows what is best."
Then there was a lull outside, for everybody wanted to hear what the great Dr. Franklin had to say.
After a while the same question was asked again: "Who is speaking now?"
And the answer was: "Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. It was he and Franklin who wrote it." "Wrote what?"
"Why, the Declaration of Independence, of course."
A little later some one said: "They will be ready to sign it soon."
"But will they dare to sign it?"
"Dare? They dare not do otherwise."
Inside the hall grave men were discussing the acts of the King of England. "He has cut off our trade with all parts of the world," said one.
"He has forced us to pay taxes without our consent," said another.
"He has sent his soldiers among us to burn our towns and kill our people," said a third.
"He has tried to make the Indians our enemies," said a fourth.
"He is a tyrant and unfit to be the ruler of a free people," agreed they all.
And then everybody was silent while one read: "We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, solemnly publish and declare that the united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states"
Soon afterward the bell in the high tower above the hall began to ring.
"It is done!" cried the people. "They have signed the Declaration of Independence." "Yes, every colony has voted for it," said those nearest the door. "The King of England shall no longer rule over us." And that was the way in which the United States came into being. The thirteen colonies were now thirteen states.
Up to this time Washington and his army had been fighting for the rights of the people as colonists. They had been fighting in order to oblige the king to do away with the unjust laws which he had made. But now they were to fight for freedom and for the independence of the United States.
By and by you will read in your histories how wisely and bravely Washington conducted the war. You will learn how he held out against the king's soldiers on Long Island and at White Plains; how he crossed the Delaware amid floating ice and drove the English from Trenton; how he wintered at Morristown; how he suffered at Valley Forge; how he fought at Germantown and Monmouth and Yorktown.
There were six years of fighting, of marching here and there, of directing and planning, of struggling in the face of every discouragement.
Eight years passed, and then peace came, for independence had been won, and this our country was made forever free.
On the 2d of November, 1783, Washington bade farewell to his army. On the 23d of December he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief.
There were some who suggested that Washington should make himself king of this country; and indeed this he might have done, so great was the people's love and gratitude.
But the great man spurned such suggestions. He said, "If you have any regard for your country or respect for me, banish those thoughts and never again speak of them."