As you all know (I hope), the 4th of July in the Year of Our Lord 1776 is recognized as America’s birthday, making this the 238th birthday of FREEDOM.
Why this date? This is the date that the (Second) Continental Congress, a governing body made of representatives from initially twelve of the thirteen colonies*, ratified the Declaration of Independence, a document that was put together by a committee of five men, ingeniously called the Committee of Five: John Adams (lawyer from MA), Benjamin Franklin (polymath from PA), Richard Sherman (lawyer from CT), Robert Livingston (lawyer from NY), and Thomas Jefferson (lawyer from VA).
I think it took a couple of days for all the delegates to actually sign the document, and then copies were made and distributed throughout the colonies to be read aloud and changed the nature of the war that was happening.
See, fighting had “officially” started the year before in 1775 at Lexington and Concord because the British wanted to suppress their upstart colonies. The colonies, on the other hand, were upset that King George III had levied taxes against them, but not other colonial subjects, to pay for the King’s wars in other parts of the world. Does Taxation Without Representation sound familiar?
The colonists were proud British citizens and didn’t understand why they couldn’t be treated as such. They started opposing these Intolerable Acts and the British Parliament didn’t respond properly because there was a literal ocean between them so correspondence took months. Also, another result of the separation was that the colonists began developing their own culture. The King sent troops over to squash everything by force, which had worked so far for him, but his army also didn’t really understand the colonial mindset. And things sort of snowballed out of control.
Some revolutionaries wanted outright independence, some wanted equality and representation in the British Parliament but were afraid of total separation, and all these voices had a place at the Continental Congress. But at the writing of the Declaration, it became clear that things had gone too far and their choices were independence (however reluctantly) or bust.
Because remember, if the colonists had lost, all the leaders would have been tried and hung as traitors: John Hancock, the president of the Congress at the time of the signing, Jefferson the writer, a moderately talented** commander in the army who would never become a general under British command because of his colonial background named George Washington, et al.
A nice video summary is here.
Some call it the greatest breakup letter in history. Way to go, Jefferson. When put in terms like that, yeah, I guess it’s pretty baller.
Another video summary is here:
Most people commemorate this day with fireworks and cookout. I think those are prerequisites for ANY American Holiday. I did my due diligence and watched Gettysburg again. Some people like to watch 1776, although I think this is the one during which I fell asleep halfway through. Other films that would be appropriate to watch: National Treasure, The Patriot, the John Adams miniseries.
And to conclude, here are some American images for your viewing pleasure.
*Georgia was slow to the game but once they saw what a good time everyone else was having, finally sent official delegates in mid-1775.
** I’ve read different things: he was a genius held back only by the low nature of his birth (born in the colonies), or he wasn’t anything special but Congress picked him to command the forces because he was one of the few people who had fought in a war, or he was of average quality but so pigheaded he survived by sheer stubbornness.