Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I've been thinking about the many people who had an impact on the history of America and thought I might remind all of us of some of them. I had a difficult time deciding who I would review first so I'm going to start at the very beginning with Christopher Columbus.
According to William J. Bennett (America The Last Best Hope, Volume 1), Columbus was a "tall, red-haired sea captain from Genoa, Italy" (p 1). Since I have some tall, red-haired grandchildren and sons-in law with connections to Italy, this became an interesting fact to me.
As you probably know, Columbus received fame by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a sea route to Asia. He did not find Asia but instead found the New World. Another interesting fact that I learned while studying about Columbus is that the scholars of that time period already knew that the world was a sphere. Way back when I was in school, we were taught that the people still believed that the earth was flat and if a person sailed far enough they could fall off the earth.
I also learned why the Europeans were searching for a sea route to Asia. It seems that the world that Columbus was born into was at war with the Ottoman Turks who conquered much of southeastern Europe and had made Constantinople (now known as Istanbul, Turkey) their capital in 1453. This became a problem for Europe because it cut off the European's access to Asia and the treasures there. It also meant that the Europeans had to choose between making a difficult and dangerous journey over land or go by sea around Africa or westward across the Atlantic. Columbus was only one of numerous sailors searching for a sea route (Marvin Lunenfeld, World Book Encyclopedia, 857).
Columbus sought financial aid from Spain's monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella) over a period of several years and finally obtained funding in 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella were strong Catholics so Columbus' faith probably had an important appeal to them. His first name means "bearer of Christ" (Bennett, America, p 3).
As you know, he took three ships - the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He was captain of the Santa Maria while two Spanish brothers captained the other two ships. A month after the ships left Spain on August 3, 1492, the approximately ninety Spanish sailors became anxious about sailing for so long without finding land. The Italian captain kept stringing them along and not wanting them to know just how far they had traveled. "Threatened with mutiny by his crew, Columbus was forced to promise his captains on October 9 that if they failed to sight land within three days, they would all turn about and head back to Spain" (Bennett, America, p 4). Why did he choose three days? Was he guessing or had he received some inspiration? The sailors started seeing signs of land such as land based birds and coastal seaweed. Finally on October 12, 1492, the three ships landed on an island in the Caribbean Sea in what is now the West Indies. Columbus named the island San Salvador (Spanish for Holy Savior). Historians do not know which island Columbus landed on. Using their best guesses, they decided that Watling Island in the Bahamas was the most likely landing spot and renamed this island San Salvador in 1926 (Lunenfeld, World Book Encyclopedia, 860).
The Santa Maria crashed on a reef on Christmas Eve and broke apart. Columbus left part of his men in the New World to hunt for gold and took two ships back to Spain, arriving there on March 15, 1493. There he was honored by Ferdinand and Isabella at a great reception.
According to the World Book article, Columbus' impact on history was huge.
His search for a westward route to Asia changed European's ideas about the world and led to contact between Europe and America. This contact brought both good and bad results. Europeans brought many deadly diseases to America to which the Native Americans had no resistance. "...malaria, measles, smallpox, tetanus, typhus, etc. swept through the newly exposed population" and killed many. In return, Europeans became infected by a form of syphilis not previously known in Europe.
There was also an exchange of many foods, animals and plants. America provided cassava, cayenne, chocolate, hot peppers, paprika, peanuts, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and potatoes. Europe and Asia sent cattle, goats, honey bees, horses, pigs, sheep, wheat and many trees and plants.
The freedom-loving people of the Americas with their ideas of sharing leadership showed the European's a new kind of personal liberty to the Europeans. The new belief inspired by the Native Americans "became a basis for democratic revolutions against European monarchies and greatly influenced the structure of government in the United States" (p 864).
So, even if I started with Columbus who came to the Americas many years before the U.S. Constitution was written, we now learn that his voyage had much greater effect than simply discovering the New World, a discovery which was foretold about 592 B.C. by a prophet (1 Nephi 13:12).

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