In 1776, on February 28, George Washington acknowledged a poem written in his honor by Phillis Wheatley. She had been captured in Africa at the age of seven or eight and sold in Boston to John and Susanna Wheatley. They treated her lovingly as a daughter and taught her to read and write; she even learned Latin. An accomplished poet, she was an admirer of the minister George Whitefield and a strong supporter of independence from Great Britain.

In 1776, on July 4, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the American nation was born.

In 1777, on November 15, the Articles of Confederation, our nation’s first written constitution (which proved to be too weak), was adopted by the Congress. It was not ratified by the states until near the end of the war, but it served as the procedure for governing throughout the war. On March 2, 1781—the day after the Articles of Confederation were ratified—the Continental Congress became known as the Confederation of Congress, and the confederacy claimed the title “the United States of America.”

Also known as the Freedom Ordinance, the Northwest Ordinance is a rock-solid example of the nonsectarian religious predicate embraced as constitutional law. When the Articles of Confederation was replaced by the new Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance was passed again and became effective under the new Constitution. George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance back into law on August 7, 1789. The Ordinance also prohibited slavery in any new state, and Article III specified that “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged.”

The Declaration of Independence condemned slavery, but it took a war to make it enforceable. On January 1, 1863, near the end of that war, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that reversed the momentum of slavery.

~ D. Norris

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