On July 1st, 1776, the success of Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution that the American Colonies should declare themselves free and independent was anything but certain. New York, worried about the fleet of ships parked just outside their environs, felt that the moment was hardly propitious for challenging Great Britain. Pennsylvania, despite Benjamin Franklin’s presence, had two stalwart opponents to independence in John Livingston and James Wilson. South Carolina seemed to indicate they might go along with it, so long as everybody else did.
And then there was Delaware. The small colony of Delaware had sent three delegates to the Second Constitutional Congress. Two, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean, were stalwart proponents of independence. One, George Read, was just as strong in his opposition. The problem was that Rodney was not in Philadelphia – he was in Byfield, where he lived on an 800-acre plantation near Dover. Health had caused him to travel home. He had been suffering from asthma and had, years earlier, been diagnosed with a cancer that Philadelphia doctors had cut from his face, leaving a scar. He was, said John Adams, “the oddest looking man in the world; he is tall, thin and slender as a reed, pale; his face is not bigger than a large apple, et there is sense and fire, spirit, wit, and humor in his countenance.”
The spirit and fire was in desperate need, as McKean and Read could not come to an agreement. McKean dispatched a messenger to Rodney’s home, requesting that he come to Philadelphia immediately in order to break the deadlock. The message reached Byfield late at night during a terrible storm. Despite his weak condition, Rodney immediately raced to his barn, put on his spurs, and galloped at full speed, covering eighty miles that night. He arrived in the morning of July 2nd, wet and covered with dirt and mud. His vote gave Delaware the 2 to 1 edge that insured the unanimity of the proclamation.