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Max Jones

July 4, 2011

MAX JONES: What do you know about that founding Declaration?

TERRE HAUTE — Of all the national holidays Americans celebrate, July 4th — Independence Day — sports the most essential link to the country’s shared history and ideals.

Yet, beyond the obvious, how much do we really know about that critical moment in time that launched a nation?

Fact 1: July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.

Fact 2: The Declaration triggered the Revolutionary War.

OK. Anyone care to expand on those?

Sure, lots of people know more. But let’s admit it, knowledge gets more sparse the more you drill down into the details.

This time of year, I am always reminded of one of my favorite trivia questions. It goes like this: What are the first seven words of the Declaration of Independence?

The answer may come easy to some, but you’d be amazed how many people, when posed with the question, quickly provide what they think is the obvious answer: “We the people of the United States …”

Right idea, but wrong document. Those are the opening words to the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

I’ll give you the answer shortly, but astute readers will have already found the answer elsewhere on this page.

Meanwhile, I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourselves. Back in the ’90s, when I was writing a weekly column for the Tribune-Star’s Metro section, I developed what I called a game of “Firecracker Trivia”, 10 questions with an Independence Day theme. See how many you can get …

1. Who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence?

2. What signature appearing on the Declaration is much larger than the others?

3. What British king was the subject of the Declaration’s scorn?

4. Which two signers of the Declaration would later become president of the United States?

5. In what city did the Continental Congress meet to draft and sign the Declaration?

6. What issue divided the Continental Congress so bitterly that all references to it had to be stricken from the document in order for unanimous adoption to occur?

7. Who was the oldest signer of the Declaration?

8. Who were the two youngest signers?

9. Who was the last surviving signer? (Hint: He died in 1832.)

10. How many eventual states were represented at the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration?

Some of those questions are quite easy. But I doubt many of you got them all. Let’s see how you did.

The answers are: 1. Thomas Jefferson; 2. John Hancock; 3. King George III; 4. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; 5. Philadelphia; 6. slavery; 7. Benjamin Franklin; 8. Thomas Lynch Jr. and Edward Rutledge, both of South Carolina. They were 26 years old; 9. Charles Carroll of Maryland. He was 95 when he died; 10. 13.

So, have you found the first seven words of the Declaration on this page? They are the opening line of today’s editorial on this page. “When in the course of human events …”

There is nothing trivial, of course, about the Declaration of Independence and all it stands for, or the people who made it happen. That’s what makes this day so special. I hope you enjoy it.

Max Jones can be reached at (812) 231-4336, or by email at max.jones@tribstar.com.

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