Today is Independence Day! *cue fireworks* This is one of my favorite days of the year. Lame parades, hot festivals, country music, political campaigns galore, beautiful fireworks, and amazing friends, all to celebrate the great nation that is America. Even more amazing than the celebration itself is the reason behind it: why we celebrate on this day and what led up to the events that happened then. I thought I would share the story of Independence Day with you on this hot but wonderful day.
Soon after Christopher Columbus stumbled upon America, the European superpowers rushed to colonize the new lands discovered. Naturally, England felt the need to get in on the action, and started the first English colony called Virginia. Through a long series of events, twelve other English colonies were founded in North America, known as Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. Each colony was begun by a group of settlers armed with a charter stating the land they were settling on was a colony under the authority of the British government and all the inhabitants therein were British citizens. Being very far away from the British homeland, the British government mostly ignored these new American colonies, and they were forced to learn to govern themselves. They built legislatures based on the British House of Commons and governments founded on the Bible and the freedoms guaranteed them therein and enumerated somewhat within the Magna Carta. For a long while, people fled Europe and settled in America to gain freedom and lived happily governing themselves independently and freely as citizens of the British government.
Then a war erupted between two long-standing enemies, Britain and France. Unlike most wars between Britain and France, this one took place mostly on the American homeland. The American colonists drummed up the militia and turned out in droves to defend themselves alongside the British soldiers sent from England. Britain spent so much on that war they wound up in massive amounts of debt. And the current king, King George III, decided the American colonies should help shoulder their share of the debt. So he taxed them.
Thing is, King George III didn't have the authority to tax Britain. Only Parliament had the authority to levy taxes, and the American colonists considered themselves part of England. They would only accept taxes if representatives they elected were allowed to sit in the House of Commons and vote on it themselves. So they sent emissaries to England to argue that point. But King George III didn't agree with that. He not only levied taxes on the American colonies, he forcefully dissolved their legislatures, refused to pass necessary laws, tried to obstruct immigration and population, made the courts of justice a mockery, took away their charters, abolished their most valuable laws, cut off their trade, completely reformed their governments to his design, and forced the abominable trade of slavery upon them.
The colonists wouldn't stand for it. After trying every avenue they could to try and get the king to back down and failing at every one of them, they had enough. When the king sent his troops to confiscate their guns and ammunition, leaving them defenseless, they whipped up their militias and fought back. War had begun. They convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia and entered into a series of actions: George Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army, the American Post Office and Navy was established, two petitions were sent to England (and ignored) called the Olive Branch Petition and the Declaration on the Causes an Necessity of Taking Up Arms, and the First Continental Congress entered into negotiations with foreign governments. American colonists were risking their lives to fight the king for the freedoms he was denying them.
In 1776, the Second Continental Congress convened with representatives from each of the thirteen colonies. They authorized the thirteen colonies to set up provisional governments to replace the ones King George III had forcefully disbanded. And then, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution that completely changed the minds and goals of the representatives there.
"RESOLVED. That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation."
Massive debates erupted. Four days later, a committee was appointed to draft a declaration of independence. Five men, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, were on it. For sixteen days, Jefferson penned a rough draft of the Declaration, the committee edited it, and on June 28, the Declaration of Independence was submitted to the Congress. They read it out loud and then tabled it until their final vote on Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independence.
The colonies battled it out. They debated Lee's resolution and revised the Declaration. Georgia and South Carolina insisted on Jefferson's scathing passage against slavery being cut from the Declaration, and still, on July 1, during the trial vote for Lee's resolution, South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted no. Delaware was stuck in a tie vote, which amounted to a no vote. The Continental Congress refused to pass Lee's resolution unless it was a unanimous vote. Finally, two delegates from Pennsylvania opposed to independence agreed to abstain from voting so Pennsylvania would have a yes vote, Caesar Rodney, a Delaware delegate who had been home sick, rode all night through a storm to break the tie vote in favor of independence, New York decided to abstain, and South Carolina gave in and voted yes so they would not be the only ones against the resolution. On July 2, Lee's resolution passed unanimously (New York voted yes a couple of days later). Our country was officially a new nation.
So why don't we celebrate independence on July 2? Right after the vote on Lee's resolution, John Adams wrote to his wife that he believed July 2 would be celebrated "as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, bells, bonfires, from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore." How come one of the founders of our country got the date of our independence celebration two days wrong?
The answer is the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence is what separates our nation from every other nation on the face of the earth. In the Declaration of Independence, the founders state that they are declaring themselves a nation independent from Great Britain, that they are doing it because of the reasons listed in the twenty-seven grievances, and that they get the authority to do this from the God of Creation. The most unique thing about this document is the six truths stated therein:
1) That all men are created.
2) That all men are created equal.
3) That rights are endowed by our Creator.
4) That rights are unalienable (nontransferable).
5) That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.
6) That governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
These six truths had never been believed or acted upon by any nation before. They revolutionized the entire world and are still revolutionizing it today. They are what makes America so amazing. The Declaration of Independence was voted on and passed on July 4, 1776. It changed the entire world and made our nation what it is today. That is why we are celebrating today instead of on July 2.
If you would like to know more about the process which led up to the Declaration of Independence, HBO's series John Adams is very accurate and very exciting. If you would like to read the full Declaration of Independence, click here.
And in celebration of the day, check out this video from the HBO series John Adams.
Have a happy Independence Day, y'all!