It was July 2, 1776.
Exhausted and muddied, the frail yet determined man stumbled into the doorway of the chamber where the second Continental Congress was meeting. Making his way to the desk where the delegates from Delaware sat, he slumped into his wooden chair. Soaked to the skin, he breathed with some difficulty. He had a bandage covering the cancerous sore on his face. But the 48-year-old major general of the Delaware militia, Caesar Rodney, voted with the passion of a man who would ride through any storm to let his desire for liberty lead to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Without his vote, the United States of America would likely not exist.
So who was Ceasar Rodney?
He was born the son of a Delaware farmer in 1728. When only seventeen, his father died and the teen was placed under the guardianship of a clerk of the peace in Kent County, Delaware. Through his guardian’s influence, Rodney became interested in politics.
At the young age of twenty-seven, Rodney was named Commissioner High Sheriff of Delaware. Other offices that he held in subsequent years were Registrar of Wills, Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of the Orphan’s Court, and Justice of the Peace.
By the time he was thirty, he was elected to the Colonial Legislature at Newcastle, Delaware.
In 1765, Rodney was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, the first official gathering of several colonies fighting against the higher taxes being enacted by Great Britain. The battle cry of that Congress was “No taxation without representation.”
|Rodney's Signature on the Declaration of Independence|
Named a delegate to the Continental Congress, Rodney retained his position as a military leader in the colonial militia…and this was what drew him back to Delaware in June of 1776. He had just finished voting on an important resolution for independence in Congress when he was notified that there was a threatened uprising among those loyal to the king living in Sussex County, Delaware.
The final vote in Philadelphia on whether or not to adopt the Declaration of Independence was approaching and delegate Thomas McKean was beginning to panic. He knew that delegate George Read would vote “Nay” to independence. If there were only two votes from Delaware, they would cancel each other out. Delaware needed Rodney’s third vote for the majority. McKean was desperate and he sent a messenger to retrieve Rodney.
|Caesar Rodney Statue, Rodney Square, Wilmington, Delaware|
Rodney received the message on the evening of July 1. He left immediately for Philadelphia, 80 miles away
According to Russ Picket (russpicket.com), it was an “agonizing ride” through a severe thunderstorm, terrible heat, over mud-filled roads and across swollen creeks. All the while, Rodney suffered from asthma and the pain of a cancerous tumor on his face.
He arrived in Philadelphia on the afternoon of July 2, in time for the Congressional vote.
Rodney continued to serve his new country. He held the office of Speaker to the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly until the day he died, June 26, 1784.
Rodney never received proper treatment for his cancer. He put aside his personal pain to save his country. He was truly a hero, not just of Delaware, but of the United States.
Watch this interesting depiction of the arrival of Caesar Rodney to Congress, from the musical “1776.” Click here.