A MUSE – Independence Day
July 4, 2014
Today we celebrate Independence Day, the date on a document dated July 4, 1776 that laid down the claim by the original 13 Colonies to be free and independent States. It was not a Declaration of War. As I discussed in my last Muse, we have issued only 5 of those. But I would say it had the effect of being one and formalized the reasons for what I would also say was a “good war”. Entitled Declaration of Independence, it declared the Colonies independent from the Kingdom of Great Britain, leading to the American Revolutionary War, previously referred to by the King as a rebellion. The 4th is celebrated today with fireworks, picnics, barbecues, baseball games, political speeches, ceremonies, and family reunions. That was not always the case. It did not become a federal holiday until 1870, nor a paid federal holiday until 1938.
The majority of us who studied any American History know much of the story, but I would like to refresh how the day came about. In the late 1760s/early 1770s, the Colonies were still occupied by the British army remaining after the end of the French and Indian War and many laws were passed by Great Britain (known as the Intolerable Acts) that became more and more distasteful to the Americans, of which there were only about 2 ½ million then (more than 300 million now). In September 1774, 55 representatives (including George Washington) from 12 of the 13 Colonies (Georgia not present) met in Philadelphia to discuss their grievances and outlined them in The Declaration and Resolves of the 1st Continental Congress. It was attempt to remain loyal to the King but asking to be treated justly like respected citizens. Its tone is best described in the Letter of Petition to the King dated October 26, 1774, to which the Declaration was attached.
To The King’s Most Excellent Majesty:
Most Gracious Sovereign: We, your Majesty’s faithful subjects of the Colonies…by this humble petition, beg leave to lay our grievances before the Throne.
We therefore most earnestly beseech your Majesty that your Royal Authority be used for our relief and that a gracious Answer may be given to this Petition, that your Majesty may enjoy a long and glorious reign, over loyal and happy subjects…
The petition is ignored. In April 1775 the rebellion erupts as skirmishes at Lexington and Concord take place; in May, Ethan Allen captures the British Fort Ticonderoga in Vermont; in June, the Battle of Bunker Hill; in July, Washington assumes command of a fledgling Continental Army.
On June 7, 1776 a 2nd Continental Congress of all 13 Colonies, each with a varying number of representatives but only one vote per Colony, is convened in Philadelphia and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposes a resolution in a tone quite different from that of the 1st Congress. Resolved: That these United Colonies are…free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiances to the British Crown, and that all political connections between them and the State of Great Britain is…totally dissolved. Consideration of the resolution was postponed while a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement to present to the world the Colonies’ justification and case for independence. On the Committee of Five were John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman (of Ct.), Robert Livingston (of N.Y.), and Thomas Jefferson, who was delegated to do the drafting (only 33, he wanted Franklin, 70, to do the drafting). That took more than two weeks. On July 1, 1776 the Congress voted on the resolution, 9 for, 3 not for, (Pa., Del., and S.C.) and 1 abstaining (N.Y.) On July 2, 1776 the Congress voted again, votes changing, now 12 for, N.Y. still unauthorized and abstaining. Thus the Lee Resolution was formally adopted and independence declared that day (is this Independence Day?). On July 4th Congress amends Jefferson’s draft and 12 Colonies approve the Declaration. John Hancock was the only signer that day. New York voted to approve the draft on July 9th and it was sent to the printers for formal copies to be prepared. It was dated July 4th.
In his Declaration Jefferson eloquently and famously summarized the philosophy of what would become a new nation: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. He then went on to accuse the King of establishing absolute tyranny over the States and cited a list of 27 Oppressions made against the Colonies. At the end he picked up on Lee’s Resolution and left no doubt about loyalties: We therefore, the Representatives of the united (note lower case) States of America…by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiances to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved. (Comma placements are Jefferson’s. I don’t edit this one.)
The Congress met again on August 2, 1776 for the formal signing. Fifty members signed that day (is this Independence Day?). The next week the British fleet and army arrived in New York Harbor. The last of the remaining six signers didn’t sign until Novermber (56 in all), and it wasn’t until then that the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain. But they knew it was coming. By this time the signers had been labeled by the King as traitors, the British had landed and seized New York City and most Americans had become committed to the struggle for independence. That’s why we celebrate the day…Trivia footnote: The 2nd, 3rd, and 5th presidents of the United States, Adams, Jefferson and Monroe, all died on July 4th, Adams and Jefferson on the same day 50 years after the signing.
Happy Fourth of July – and thanks for stopping by.
VS – www.thelavallecollection.com