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Holiday Insight: Independence Day (4th of July)

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General Information

Independence Day is an annual celebration of a nation's assumption of independent statehood. Like the United States, most countries celebrate an Independence Day in recognition of independence after having been a colony of another recognized statehood. The United States recognizes the 4th of July as its day of independence from Great Britain. The 4th of July commemorates the official signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that declared the initial Thirteen Colonies of the United States independent from Great Britain, in 1776.

History of Independence Day

The Kingdom of Great Britain or United Kingdom of Great Britain, as it is commonly referred, was formed by a merger of the kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1707. This new Kingdom of Great Britain held colonies located in North America. In opposition to laws imposed by the British government, the American colonies banned together to establish plans of action against this ruling and governing body. Thirteen of the North American colonies, known as the Thirteen Colonies, united under a legislative body, known as the Continental Congress. The thirteen, united colonies included:

  1. The providence of New Hampshire, now known as New Hampshire and Vermont
  2. The providence of Massachusetts Bay, now known as Massachusetts and Maine
  3. The colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
  4. The colony of Connecticut
  5. The providence of New York, now known as New York and Vermont
  6. The providence of New Jersey
  7. The providence of Pennsylvania
  8. The colony of Delaware
  9. The providence of Maryland
  10. The colony and dominion of Virginia, now known as Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia
  11. The providence of North Carolina, now known as North Carolina and Tennessee
  12. The providence of South Carolina
  13. The providence of Georgia

The first Continental Congress was established in 1774 with a retaliatory plan of action against Britain. They were effective in establishing a boycott of goods from Britain and ceasing the export of goods to Britain. In 1775, the second Continental Congress was established for the Thirteen Colonies and determined that Britain had declared war against them. Continued unrest and fighting, between the colonies and Great Britain, prevailed and, ultimately, lead to the start of the American Revolutionary War of 1775.

The Thirteen colonies sought total independence from British control. A committee of four delegates, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Robert Livingston, was formed to draft a declaration for independence. History has held that the original draft of the declaration is accredited to Thomas Jefferson. Research has shown, however, that both Jefferson and Adams may have composed similar documents based on the writings of Thomas Paine. Paine, a noted Quaker and advocate for the abolishment of slavery, was greatly despised and, most often, ignored. His works were, historically, accredited to others.

Paine, in his writings, consistently made use of one of the most controversial terms in the declaration, unalienable. This term was not adopted, however, for use in the original, draft declaration. Instead, the term, inalienable was used. The term, unalienable, when used in reference to human rights, implied those rights transferred or inherent from God. The term, inalienable, on the other hand, is used to signify a transfer of rights between individuals.

The original draft was edited to remove the denunciation of the slave trade, criticisms of the British parliament and criticism of the British people. This new draft was presented to the Continental Congress on July 1st 1776. After more modifications, the final draft was ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4th 1776. Between 150 and 200 copies of the final, draft declaration were printed by the printing company of John Dunlap. These printed copies are known as the Dunlap broadsides. Twenty-five copies of Dunlap broadsides of the declaration are still known to be in existence today.

The Declaration of Independence has three major sections:

  1. The preamble, which lists the core fundamental principles
  2. A list of complaints and grievances against the king, King George III, and his actions
  3. A conclusion that formally declares independence as well as a pledge of delegates to support the declaration with "their lives, fortunes and sacred honor".

It was not until, July 19th, that the Congress ordered a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence for official signatures. James Adams changed the term, inalienable, to the term, unalienable, to reject human rights as transferable between humans, but issued by God. Though the Declaration of Independence is dated on July 4th 1776, the official copy to receive handwritten signatures was first signed on August 2nd 1776. Most delegates of the Thirteen Colonies signed on this date, others signed later and two delegates of the original Thirteen Colonies never signed it. As new delegates joined the Congress, they were allowed to sign the declaration. Fifty-six delegates signed the declaration as it is currently displayed at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

There are several myths that surround the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They include the following:

  • John Hancock's signature is larger than any other because Hancock wanted to ensure that King George III would be capable to read his signature without glasses. Though Hancock's signature is the largest of all signatures, the rest of the myth is unfounded.
  • The painting, by John Trumbull, depicting all representatives signing the declaration is a depiction of an event that never took place.
  • The Liberty Bell was not rung to celebrate independence nor cracked during the process. This myth is taken from a children's book by George Lippard, entitled Legends of the American Revolution. The Liberty Bell is actually the symbol of anti-slavery.

The Kingdom of Great Britain did not recognize the independence of the colonies until the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The treaty also established the formal end to the American Revolutionary War between the Thirteen Colonies and the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The United States is now comprised of 48 contiguous states, an exclave known as Alaska and the archipelago known as Hawaii. These fifty states are governed by the US Constitution, which incorporates many of the principles established in the Declaration of Independence for the initial Thirteen Colonies.

Date of Celebration

Independence day is celebrated July 4th, every year.

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