Why Is Caesar Rodney Honored On the First US Statehood Quarter?
June 27, 2019
When the U.S. government passed a law establishing the U.S. Statehood Quarter series, the coins were issued in the order that the states ratified the U.S. Constitution or joined the Union. Thus, Delaware was honored on the first coin in the series.
The reverse shows a man riding on a galloping horse. He is Caesar Rodney. Before I lived in Dover, Delaware for a couple of months in the summer of 1968, I had never heard of him. By the time I returned to Michigan, I understood why he is so renowned in Delaware. It would have completely surprised me if the Delaware Statehood Quarter issued in 1999 had depicted anything other than Caesar Rodney riding on a horse.
It is almost a shame that not many Americans living outside of Delaware are aware of how much this nation owes to this Revolutionary hero. Here is the story, which is especially important as we celebrate the Anniversary of American Independence next week.
Caesar Rodney was a lawyer and politician. He was an officer of the Delaware militia during the French and Indian War, a general in the Revolutionary War, a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, and a leader of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence. While he was serving as the chair of the Delaware colonial Assembly on June 15, 1776, that body voted to sever all ties with the British Parliament and King.
As this occurred, Rodney was also one of three Delaware delegates to the Continental Congress that was meeting in Philadelphia. It was in this capacity that he left his mark in American History.
Continental Congress delegate Richard Henry Lee from Virginia presented a resolution to the body on June 7, 1776, to declare independence from Great Britain. Over the balance of the month, some delegations from other colonies came out in support of declaring independence, though there was significant opposition.
On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a Committee of Five to draft the actual declaration of independence. The members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New Jersey, and Roger Sherman from Connecticut. Adams persuaded the other members of the committee that Jefferson should draft the document, in consultation with the others. A draft was formally presented to the Continental Congress on June 28.
The Congress made modifications to the draft, then went into a meeting of the “committee of the whole” on July 1. After going back into regular session, the Congress did not have unanimous support to the declaration (South Carolina was opposed, New York was not authorized to vote in favor, and the two Delaware delegate in attendance were deadlocked), so the motion to declare independence was postponed until the next day.
Caesar Rodney, suffering from facial cancer to which he would succumb eight years later, had returned home from the Continental Congress to try to restore his health. Word reached him late on July 1 that the Delaware delegation to the Congress was deadlocked on whether to support the declaration of independence. He rose from his sick bed, rode 70 miles on his horse overnight to Philadelphia, and was present to ensure that Delaware’s delegation voted in favor of Independence on July 2.
South Carolina’s delegation changed to support the declaration that day. Consequently, the vote to declare independence from Great Britain was adopted by a 12-0 vote on July 2, 1776. New York’s delegation continued to abstain but was finally authorized to support the declaration a week later.
After voting to declare independence, the Continental Congress resumed deliberating the language of the formal Declaration of Independence. More modifications were made and about one-fourth of the language was deleted. Finally, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the document that has become one of the most important in history.
Portions of the Declaration of Independence were subsequently incorporated in independence declarations in a number of countries including France, Russia, Venezuela, Liberia, Confederate States of America, Vietnam, Haiti, New Granada, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Texas, California, Hungary, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, and Rhodesia.
Who knows how history might have turned out if Caesar Rodney, the first person honored on a US Statehood Quarter, had not acted with courage and fortitude on the night of July 1, 1776?