Today is Independence Day! This is the holiday that celebrates the American colonists’ declaration of separation from the British monarchy. Unfortunately, today many people who refer to the day as the Fourth of July, equate it with cookouts and fireworks, and enjoy a day away from work. All of that is well and fine, but we should also take a minute and reflect on the events that set the stage for this national holiday.
When shots were exchanged between militiamen and the British in Massachusetts during April 1775, a series of events unraveled that led to the day we mark our independence. Shortly after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress convened and established the Continental Army with George Washington in command, but also sent the Olive Branch Petition to the king. George III considered the Americans to be rebels and had little time for their grievances. Over the winter, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense made the pamphlet circuit and the thought of independence began to solidify throughout the colonies. Finally, as the Second Continental Congress reconvened in 1776, American leadership made its move.
The Committee of Five, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, would be charged with putting together the American statement. Jefferson wrote most of the document with significant input from Franklin. In the end, it became much more than a declaration, but rather an idealistic roadmap that has become a rallying point for many Americans as well as others around the globe. The thoughts expressed as “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” has become the gold standard for many generations of freedom seekers, but it was the success of these few colonists that gave the promise its beginning.
At the end of the document, there is a very profound statement. “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Until the surrender at Yorktown in 1781, this oath would be tested many times. It would also be tested under the Articles of Confederation until 1787 when many of these same delegates would gather in Philadelphia to write the constitution we live by today and that has solidified our government.
Finally, it is interesting to note that July 2, 1776 marks the date when a closed session of Congress first approved a resolution of independence. However, the final copy, which may have been signed by John Hancock, went to print on July 4th. This was distributed to the public as the Dunlap broadside and is the date most associated with independence. The full delegation did not complete the signing of the document until August. The year 1776 proved to be difficult as Washington and the Continental Army suffered several defeats. Finally, their Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware to surprise the British in New Jersey gave hope, a hope that continued throughout the war.
Enjoy the fireworks, but remember the path to freedom!