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A tribute to Maryland-Delaware revolutionary Caesar Rodney [Letter]


At this time of year, I am reminded of an American hero, Caesar Rodney, and his midnight ride for independence. Although Caesar Rodney is unfortunately forgotten by many teachers and textbook writers today, his midnight ride to Philadelphia forever changed American history; as he cast the tie-breaking vote to deliver us independence from Great Britain. The following briefly recounts Founding Father Caesar Rodney's important role in the fight for American Independence.

On June 30, 1776, a motion for independence was put forward in the Continental Congress. Debates over independence continued into July 1, 1776. A vote was held whereby nine colonies voted for independence. Two colonies, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, voted against independence. One colony, New York, abstained from the vote, and another colony, Delaware, was split on its vote.

Delaware sent three delegates to the Continental Congress: Thomas McKean, George Read and Caesar Rodney. Mr. Rodney, however, was not present June 30 to July 1, 1776, because he was performing his duties as brigadier general of the Delaware militia. Thus, Delaware's tied voted was between Mr. McKean, who voted for independence, and Mr. Read, who voted against independence.

Although the Continental Congress had enough support to carry a motion declaring independence, it did not want to move forward with such a declaration without unanimous support from the colonies. Thomas McKean dispatched a rider to notify Caesar Rodney of Delaware's tied vote and to inform him that he was desperately needed in Congress. The dispatch rider reached Rodney at almost midnight on July 1, 1776. Without delay, Caesar Rodney got on his horse and rode approximately 80 miles, through the night and a terrible thunderstorm, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Caesar Rodney arrived in Philadelphia muddied and in his boots and spurs just as another vote for independence was about to take place on July 2, 1776. Rodney cast his vote for independence, breaking Delaware's tied vote. South Carolina and Pennsylvania changed their votes and voted for independence. New York still abstained from voting on the basis that its delegates had no specific instructions, but the Continental Congress now had its unanimous support for independence from all voting colonies.  

Caesar Rodney's midnight ride to Philadelphia would have been a strenuous ride for just about anyone, but it was even more taxing on Rodney who was of ill heath; suffering from, among other things, asthma and cancer of the jaw. It is believed that Mr. Rodney had been told of a physician in London who could treat his cancer. Whether that was true we do not know for sure. One thing, however, was for certain - Rodney's vote for independence was considered high treason and caused him to be branded a traitor to the Crown. As history records, Caesar Rodney gave up the possibility of receiving medical treatment in London because he voted and pledged his life, fortune and sacred honor for American independence.

It is interesting that Rome fell at the hands of a Caesar and American independence was helped to be born by the selfless and heroic actions of another Caesar - Caesar Rodney. Today, a statue of Caesar Rodney stands on Rodney Square in Wilmington, Del. Mr. Rodney's image also appears on the 1999 U.S. Delaware Quarter. 

Derek J. Howell


The writer is Director Of Operations for the Anne Arundel County based Institute On The Constitution.

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