This coming Thursday is the 4th of July. Virtually every American knows that it’s a big holiday and fireworks will happen. There are parades and lots of parties. We are celebrating our nation. Yet, I’ve found that a surprisingly small number of Americans know why we celebrate July 4th. Many, after thinking for a moment, will reply that it’s Independence Day—and so it is. But what happened on that day—and in what year? Let me give you a quick review.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, kicked off the American Revolutionary War. Tensions had been building for many years between residents of the 13 American colonies and the British authorities, particularly in Massachusetts. Colonists had been stockpiling weapons and raising militias for some time.
Not every colonist supported independence. Many hoped for partial independence while still remaining loyal to Great Britain, while others wanted fully controlled colonies. People who wished to remain part of Great Britain were called Loyalists.
Then, on the night of April 18, 1775, hundreds of British troops marched from Boston to nearby Concord in order to seize an arms cache. Paul Revere and other riders sounded the alarm, and colonial militiamen began mobilizing to intercept the Redcoats. A confrontation on the Lexington green started off the fighting with the “shot heard around the world”. Many more battles followed, and in 1783 the colonists formally won their independence.
In the summer of 1776, America was fully at war with Great Britain, and the leaders of the thirteen colonies began to set their sights on formalizing their new country.
So, on 11 June 1776, the Continental Congress formed a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence calling for freedom from Britain.
A committee of five men, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Sherman, and Robert Livingston formed the committee, although Jefferson, who had excellent writing skills, wrote most of the Declaration himself.
Then, on 2 July 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution saying that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.”
The next day, on July 3rd, the Continental Congress began considering the Declaration of Independence. There was a significant amount of debate and discussion about it, and some colonial leaders were still hesitant. However, in the early hours of July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of a new United States of America from Great Britain and its king. It began being published and distributed that same day.
The declaration came 442 days after the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually involve France’s badly needed intervention on behalf of the Americans.
The declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York, the 13th colony, approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed. Many of the men who signed that document paid for it with their lives. The American War for Independence would last for five years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.
So, what happened on July 4th, 1776? Our Congress passed the Declaration of Independence. That’s why July 4th is called Independence Day.
One important phrase from our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator—that’s God—with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Note that rights come from God—not from the government.
The Declaration of Independence is one of our nation’s two founding documents. The other one is our Constitution. The Constitution was written after the end of the Revolutionary War and became in effect on 21 June 1788. America is not a democracy and was designed not to be one. We are a Constitutional republic. The Constitution is a legal document that was created to guide our nation—ours was the first constitutional republic in the world. In a democracy the majority rules—the majority can vote to take your property or make you a slave. Our Constitution protects us—we are a nation of law—not of men.
It is this Constitution that we military folks take an oath to support and defend.
I strongly encourage all patriots to include reading and discussing these two documents with their friends and families. Very few schools, these days, even acknowledge the existence of these documents, much less study them and seek to understand them. Please do enjoy having a fun time with family and friends on the 4th, but please do include at least a bit of time remembering what happened on that day—and remembering the men who gave their lives to give us the nation that leads the world in freedom and prosperity.