Independence Day: Why We Celebrate July 4

June 23, 2010

(Note: Because of being out of town later in the year, I’m trying to get ahead a column or two on my newspaper articles.  Here’s one that will get you thinking about how the smallest things can providentially move history in a certain direction. Enjoy!)

All my life, I heard that the Declaration of Independence was passed by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.  That, of course, is the reason the United States celebrates Independence Day on the 4th of July.  What a shock it was for me to find out that’s not—at least not “technically”—the case.

If you remember much history, you’ll recall there had already been several battles between non-loyalist colonists and British troops, of which some important ones had been won by colonists.  In reaction, King George of Britain, short on English soldiers, deployed a total of 17,000 troops from Germany (a.k.a. “Hessians”) to control the situation in the American colonies.  This action simply irritated the colonists even more.

During the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, acting on the wishes of Virginians, formally proposed independence from Britain on June 7, 1776.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  Lee’s three-sentence “declaration of independence” was actually approved on July 2.

To the participants, the action of July 2, 1776 was so significant that John Adams, later second President of the United States, wrote his wife the following words: “The second day of July, 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”

Maybe you’re thinking that July 4, 1776 instead was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. If so, you’d be wrong.  That took place on August 2, 1776.

So, how did July 4 come into the picture?  Well, the wording of Lee’s resolution got smoothed in its written form.  That moved back the official date on the actual Declaration of Independence to the 4th of July.

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