While they all knew the breakup with King George and England would be violent, only Button Gwinnett put his finger on the fact that it would also be bittersweet.
One of three delegates from Georgia, Gwinnett, late in the evening of July 2, 1776, suggested that the next day should be one of celebrating things his fellow Continental Congressmen would remember fondly about their soon-to-be ex wife.
“This time Thursday,” Gwinnett said, thumping a table on which the as yet unapproved Declaration of Independence note cards lay, “we’ll be balls deep in reasonable justifications of a war that will cost blood and treasure. I say tomorrow we spend in those weird-ass paper Christmas hats, listening to Little Mix, and having a Quadrophenia-style beach fight.”
From the other side of the stifling hot room, John Witherspoon, member of the New Jersey delegation, rose. The Philadelphia summer has been one of heat and disease, compounded by the endless arguments and jockeying for position between representatives of northern and southern states. Indeed, just last week Delaware’s Caesar Rodney had called South Carolina’s Arthur Middleton “a real dink.”
Yet Witherspoon, who had often butted heads with the nascent Georgia delegation (the colony had not sent a delegation to the First Continental Congress), agreed with his southern colleague. Secretary Charles Thomson writes:
Widdyrspun then did Gwynnt a folid, faying both menne were ‘dreffed right for a beach fight,’ and that he had brotten a box of bluef for juft thif occafion.
July 3, 1776, dawned hot but overcast. John Adams later wrote his wife, Abigail, that at first New Hampshire’s William Whipple tussled with Connecticut’s Samuel Huntington over who got to carry the iPod on the carriage convoy to the Jersey shore.
Huntington didst then call Whipple a Franconia Crotch and the fray was settled amiably.
The carriages, arrayed like Vespa scooters with numerous mirrors procured by Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin, began the journey to the seashore.
“It was this voyage to the east,” writes Stephen Ambrose in a passage cribbed from the work of another professor, “but with mirrors looking backward, forward, and at every angle, that symbolized both a yearning for England and a healthy acknowledgment—an American acknowledgment—that eastward lay the only convenient ocean.”
The 56 delegates, plus Thomson, disembarked north of what is now Atlantic City and had a picnic lunch that included “berries, squabs, breads, langoustines, sweetmeats, infant, duck, dog, leaves, a grackle by mistake, cider, lorb, and varrious nogges,” according to Thomson’s notes, which were written on a White Castle bag.
“This time tomorrow, where will we be?” said John Hancock, who had served as the Congress president and whose signature, “big enough for King Syphilis to read without his Coke bottles,” would adorn the Declaration of Independence.
The afternoon was spent in jubilant mod/rocker clashes (Samuel Adams was unanimously declared the Ace Face), the consumption of Chocolate Smarties and eel pies, and spirited debates over which Time Lord could defeat General William Howe.
Fifty years and a day later, as each lay on his deathbed, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson called for a Button Gwinnett before expiring. During the darkest days of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill would hoist solemn Gwinnetts from their adjoining West Wing baths.
And on that July 3, as One Direction crackled from William Hooper’s little bluetooth speaker, the world’s newest nation finally reconciled Dr. Jimmy with Mr. Jim. New York’s Francis Lewis said, “If at all possible, one should endeavor to think fondly of people it was absolutely necessary to break up with.”