Declaration of Independence reading

Chapin Library at Williams College and the Williamstown Theatre Festival prepared a video program of the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence and related documents including Frederick Douglass's speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?.” On May 10th, 1776, the Massachusetts legislature, called the General Court, asked the various towns of the state each to consider whether its people would support a declaration of independence by the Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. Williamstown replied on June 24th, sending its consensus under the name of Town Moderator Nathan Wheeler. The town’s response is read by local historian Dusty Griffin. This reading is followed by the Declaration of Independence, from the text passed on July 4th, 1776, when it was not yet a “unanimous declaration” – the delegates from New York State having abstained from the voting. The Declaration is read by Williams College faculty, staff, and families, organized by Gretchen Long, Professor of History. Next, Chris Waters, the Hans W. Gatzke, Class of 1938 Professor of Modern European History at Williams, reads a rare document sometimes called the British reply to the Declaration. This was a text issued by Admiral Lord Howe and General Howe, the King’s Commissioners for Restoring Peace in North America, on September 11th, 1776, speaking directly to the people when a late appeal to the Congress – basically, a demand for surrender – failed to stop the fighting. It was too little, too late, more than a year after Lexington and Concord. The “constitution” referred to at the end is the government and laws of Great Britain, embodied in King George and Parliament. ​Finally, Michael Obasohan, of the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Community Works initiative, reads excerpts from a speech by Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass was born into slavery, escaped to the North, and became a noted abolitionist, speaker, writer, and diplomat. In 1852, when he delivered this speech in Rochester, New York, African-Americans like himself did not have the freedom and independence praised in the Declaration, and of course that freedom is still in question today.
File details
ID Label Size Mimetype Created
OBJ DC2021_001_Declaration_of_Independence_2020_smaller.mp4 115.22 MiB video/mp4 2020-07-07
TN TN 124.59 KiB image/jpeg 2020-07-07
MP4 MP4 91.99 MiB video/mp4 2020-07-07