By Rick Winsman
Ask any child who has passed through the first three grades of school and they will tell you that the 4th of July – Independence Day – is celebrated because the 13 original Colonies got fed up with the tyranny of England and in the Declaration of Independence they, well, declared their independence.
In actuality, independence was declared two days earlier on July 2, 1776 and it took over six years to win full independence in 1783.
Origins and Beginnings
Most of us consider the 4th of July to be the beginning of the United States of America, but in truth the colonies had already declared their independence and had yet to actually win freedom from England.
On July 2, 1776, during the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, at the urging of Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, a resolution of independence was adopted that declared the Thirteen Colonies would no longer be subject to the rule of the British Crown.
“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.”
It was not until September 3, 1783 with the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain formally abandoned any claim to the United States, that genuine independence was secured.
So then…why July 4th? Why not July 2nd when independence was declared by the Second Continental Congress or September 3rd when the Treaty of Paris finally gave us real and true independence?
Well, there is a reason.
A Message to the World
As any historian will quickly attest to, the United States of America, at its core, has always been about an idea – an experiment that proclaims all men (and eventually women and everyone else not originally included) have the right to determine their own governance, their own future and live their lives as they will.
In the beginning of our “experiment,” the rest of the world looked on our Republic with amusement and just a pinch of trepidation. They had seen it before and quite expected the United States to fail – and waited and waited and waited for it to do so. Now, over 200 years later, the world is still waiting, the idea of America holds strong, and has influenced the waiting world in ways that our Founding Fathers would never been able to foresee.
So, on July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, et al. unveiled the official and newly adopted Declaration of Independence to the public for the very first time, it was so much more than declaring political freedom from England. It was, in fact, the first time in history a nation had been founded on the principal that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and that these rights would be guaranteed by the government. It has fed the character of the people and institutions of the United States of America ever since. The founding fathers were declaring not just the independence of a nation but of all the people therein.
Our National Day
The first President to celebrate July 4th was Declaration drafter Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Other communities around the fledgling country celebrated the day in many different ways including Bristol, Rhode Island’s 13 gun salute at dawn and dusk in 1777. In 1781, Massachusetts adopted the holiday and in 1791 first used the term “Independence Day.”
It took until 1870 for the 4th of July – Independence Day – to become an official National holiday and until 1938 to become a fully “paid” holiday for workers.
Beer, Burgers and Things That Go Boom
Today, most of us will celebrate our Nation’s Independence by doing summer activities – grilling out, picnicking, going to the beach or the pool and then gathering to watch the fireworks light up the night sky. So it would seem that even after 237 years, the “American Experiment” is alive and well and will continue to influence the world for the better.
So get together this July 4th with family and friends and celebrate the greatest country in the world! And while you’re at it, take a second and remember all those brave men and women who have taken the risks, fought the battles and sometimes have paid the greatest price to insure the we, the people, will be able to celebrate July 4th, Independence Day, for many generations to come.
Have a happy 4th!
(Finally. A band that actually knows how to march.)
Post originally published on June 25, 2013.