What did Caesar Rodney think when he rode 70 miles to vote?
By Ciro Poppiti, III
“I have to do what now?”
I have always imagined how Caesar Rodney may have reacted on that stormy summer morning, July 1, 1776, when he was told he would have to urgently ride seventy miles to Philadelphia to vote yes for the Declaration of Independence.
Given all that was on his shoulders, I would have understood if Caesar had said No. However, by saying Yes, Caesar Rodney crystalized a moment in time-a moment so selfless and so brave that Delawareans cling to it and extol it like nothing else in our history.
Two weeks earlier on June 15, 1776, Delaware had declared itself free and independent from Great Britain. Delaware was the first colony to formally do so. Rodney was the speaker of the Delaware Assembly and a champion for independence.
In addition to speaker, Rodney was a brigadier general in Delaware’s militia and would serve honorably in support of George Washington. He was also an associate justice on the colony’s supreme court. Remarkably, Rodney achieved all of this despite debilitating facial cancer.
So thus, I find him in my mind’s eye, being greeted on that July 1 morning by some unlucky messenger: “Mr. Rodney, your responsibilities as speaker, general, and justice may have tired you, but there is an urgent task ahead today. You, good sir, also represent Delaware at the Continental Congress. The Congress is voting tomorrow on the Lee Resolution from Virginia, namely whether or not these colonies ought to follow Delaware’s lead and become free and independent states. The Lee Resolution is embodied in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The colonies must vote unanimously for the Lee Resolution to pass. Delaware is split on the resolution, so your vote is urgent because it is the tie breaker. Despite the pain that such a rigorous journey will visit upon your facial cancer, you have to set off for Philadelphia immediately. If you don’t go, the Declaration of Independence will fail.”
“I have to do what now?”
“Oh yes, Mr. Rodney,” continues the messenger. “I forgot to mention your reward for going to Philadelphia: Great Britain will label you a traitor, with orders to destroy your family and your farm. You will endure several more years fighting the Red Coats, with your troops over-manned and poorly armed. You will be thrown out of office for the courage of voting for independence (but don’t worry, because you’ll come roaring back, eventually elected governor).”
“Okay, for love of Delaware, for love of America, I’ll do it!”
And so my friends, on this July 4, 2015, may the selfless courage of Caesar Rodney fill our hearts. Let his heroism ring forth as mighty Caesar rides again!
Ciro Poppiti, III, Esquire, is the Register of Wills, a position once held by Caesar Rodney.