Every year, America goes all out to celebrate July 4th 1776, the day that America declared its independence from Great Britain! This year marks the 239th anniversary of the birth of our nation…
There are countless firework displays, picnics, parades, concerts, public ceremonies and lots of patriotic flag waving. It is a big day in American History…and it’s probably the biggest and most important non-religious holiday of the year! Only Thanksgiving and Memorial Day can compete…
The photo above was taken in the 1980s showing the fireworks display in our nation’s capital behind the Washington Monument.
The painting shown above is entitled “The Spirit of ‘76” and it has become a symbol of American patriotism. You see it in publications quite often around July 4th as a symbol of the day. Believe it or not, it wasn’t painted until ca. 1875, about 100 years after the Declaration of Independence. The artist was A.M. Willard.
In the late spring of 1776, the Second Continental Congress agreed to appoint a committee to draft a broadside statement to proclaim to the world the reasons for taking America out of the British Empire. The "Committee of Five" as appointed by Congress drafted and presented to the Congress what became known as America's Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. This Declaration committee operated from June 11, 1776 until July 5, 1776, the day on which the Declaration was actually published.
Pictured above, Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and he later became our 3rd President. Other members of the committee were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston.
John Adams served as our first Minister to the Court of St. James. (Great Britain) He was also Washington’s Vice President for 8 years and then succeeded Washington as the 2nd President of the United States, serving another 8 years.
Actually, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776. That is the date when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. That resolution declared the United States’ independence from Great Britain.
John Adams wrongly predicted that July 2nd would be the ‘day to remember’. He wrote to his wife Abigail: “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.”
He was off by two days… From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.
Factoids: Did you know that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4th, 1828? Also, our 5th President, James Monroe died on July 4th 1831.
Ben Franklin is generally well known by most Americans. Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He was already 70 years old when he worked on and signed the Declaration of Independence. Despite his age he went on to serve as our first Postmaster General and as our Minister to France. In the latter role, he was instrumental in securing the alliance with France that brought that country into the Revolutionary War as a critical supporter of our struggle for independence.
Factoid: Texas voted to be annexed by the United States on July 4th, 1845.
Roger Sherman is little known today. In addition to serving on The Committee of Five, he was a American lawyer and politician who was the first mayor of New Haven Connecticut. He was also a Representative and Senator in the new republic. He was the only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the Continental Association; the Declaration of Independence; the Articles of Confederation, and; the Constitution.
Factoid: On July 4th, 1884 the Statue of Liberty was completed in France and was presented to the United States in Paris. France funded and built the statue and the US was responsible for designing and building the base…
Robert Livingston was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat from New York, and of course he was a member of the Committee of Five. From 1777 to 1801, he was the first Chancellor of New York, then the highest judicial officer in the state. Livingston was also the U.S. Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 1781 to 1783. In 1789, as Chancellor of New York, he administered the presidential oath of office to George Washington at Federal Hall in New York City, then the Capital of the United States.
He did play one other critical role in the growth and development of the United States. As U.S. Minister to France from 1801 to 1804, Livingston negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. After the signing of the Louisiana Purchase agreement in 1803, Livingston stated:
“We have lived long but this is the noblest work of our whole lives ... The United States take rank this day among the first powers of the world.”
This is the Declaration of Independence, the document that we celebrate on the 4th of July…that same document that the Committee of Five wrote at the direction of the Second Continental Congress. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution.
Note: Even if you greatly enlarge this picture of the Declaration of Independence, it will be hard to read. For a copy of the transcript, you can go to http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.
Having served its original purpose in announcing our country’s independence, references to the text of the Declaration of Independence were few and far between for the next 87 years. Then Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric (as in the Gettysburg Address of 1863), and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I couldn’t end without including photos of George Washington and Betsy Ross. There is much debate regarding the first official American flag and who actually designed it. There allegedly is no documentation proving that Betsy Ross sewed the first 13-star American Flag nor is there anything supporting George Washington’s involvement in the flag’s design...but we love a good story! More importantly Washington is referred to as the father of our country...
Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a naval flag designer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department. He was the only person to claim he’d designed the original flag during his own lifetime. He actually sent a letter and several bills to Congress for his work. These claims are documented in the Journals of the Continental Congress.
No matter how our flag originated, who might have sewed that first flag, the important fact is that it is a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world.
Have a happy 4th of July…and remember, this day isn’t just about picnics and fireworks.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave