Americans of all ages love the Fourth of July. As our nation’s one completely American holiday, the Fourth is a day for fun. Whether they head for a favorite beach and a clambake, watch fireworks beneath a night sky, sink their teeth into fried chicken or barbeque burgers over a grill, we all celebrate the Fourth of July.
The holiday so often called “America’s birthday” is marked with patriotic parades, speechs, and remembrance but sometimes the real history behind the day is all but forgotton.
Once known more commonly as Independence Day, the Fourth of July marks the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. On that day, this all important document was signed by John Hancock, then president of Congress and by Charles Thomson, Congressional secretary. The other fifty-six members of Congress didn’t sign their names until July 19.
July 8 marks the date that the Liberty Bell was rung to call Philadelphia residents to the State House. At that time the Declaration of Indepence was read to the public for the first time and the celebrations began.
What is often forgotten by Americans is that this Declaration alone did not make the American Colonies into a nation. Signed during a time of war, the Declaration of Independence was a public statement that a new nation was emerging if only in the hearts and minds of its’ people. This announcement offered hope to the colonists that America – the new land of promise and freedoms – would triumph.
At the time the Continental Congress gathered to ink their names across the Declaration of Independence, Boston was under siege and would remain so until later in 1777. George Washington’s famous crossing of of the Delaware River and subsequent victory would not happen until December 26 – almost six months after the Declaration was signed. The Revolutionary War would continue until British general Cornwallis surrended at Yorktown in October of 1781. Formal peace was not established until England signed the pact known as The Peace of Paris in 1783, seven years after the Declaration of Indepence was signed in Philadelphia.
The thirteen colonies were already embroiled in a conflict designed to free them from Great Britian and English rule. The “shot heard around the world” had been fired in Concord, MA in 1775. Contrary to popular belief, the Declaration of Independence was not a formal signing of policy for a new nation but a brave, avant garde attempt to establish revolutionary government.
Our solid nation was founded by men deemed rebels by the English Crown and British redcoats struggled to put down the rebellion but failed.
As Americans gather to shoot off their own fireworks or view a public display over their city, let us remember the courage inked into every word of the Declaration of Independence. Let us not forget the sacrifices made to stand against British rule and that had the Revolutionary War been lost, that the fifty-six men who signed the document would have been guilty of treason. That crime was punishable by death.
As our nation marks the 229th anniversary of the signing, let us all remember that our beloved document was signed during war, in uncertain times but with hope for a bold future.