Mandan News

Fourth of July: a look back

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

Two hundred and thirty eight years ago, a document was adopted by what would become a fledgeling country. At the time, it was largely a symbolic gesture; one that was meant to help inspire a struggling army.

Today, that event is seen in a very different light. For many, it symbolizes the day in which the United States gained their independence. A day of celebration that is cherished by an entire country. However, as with nearly any other holiday, there are many myths and misunderstanding about the history of the day.

Day of Independence
While we celebrate the day of the United States independence on the fourth of July, historically, the day was when the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

The Declaration of Independence was not the actual document that made the United States an independent country. Instead, the purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to create a defense for already having declared independence two day before.

On July 1, 1776, the Second Continental Congress had convened in Philadelphia. Representatives from the 13 colonies, in the midst of fighting in a revolutionary war, got together to weigh the idea of issuing a resolution that would signal their separation from Great Britain.

The gears for this meeting had begun turning much earlier though. It was on June 7 when the Continental Congress had first met in at the Pennsylvania State House (which would later be named Independence Hall).

The Virginia delegate, a man by the name of Richard Henry Lee, introduced the motion for independence. Sparking an intense debate, the congress decided to postpone the vote on the resolution. However, this set off a chain of events that would culminate nearly a month later.

Congress had made the decision to appoint a five-man committee to begin drafting a formal statement in defense of their actions.

It was in this atmosphere that the delegates once again met on July 1. Discussion continued throughout the day, but on July 2, 12 of the 13 colonies voted in favor of the resolution, with New York abstaining at the time, but later voted affirmatively.

Over the next couple of days, the delegation would revise the draft of the statement that the five-man committee had begun in early June. Finally, on July 4, Congress officially adopted what had become the Declaration of Independence. However, that wasn’t the end to the ordeal.

Nearly a month would pass before the declaration would actually be signed. It took two weeks to have the draft rewritten on parchment, so that its was in a clear hand. It wouldn’t be until August 2 that the majority of the delegates would sign the official copy, with a couple having signed it at a later date and two others never signing the work.

From nearly the beginning though, people rallied around July 4 as a day of celebration. However, there were those who opposed the date, and preferred a different one.

John Adams was a major proponent of the July 2 date. After Congress had passed the resolution for independence, Adams would write home to his wife, Abigail. He told her that the second of July “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Yet, it wouldn’t actually be for a few more years until the United States would actually form, and become an independent country. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the Revolutionary War ended, and thus the United States gained their sovereignty. It was this pinnacle point in the United States history that the independence was cemented. If the colonies had lost their fight, the events of 1776 would have been for not.

Celebration
Before the colonies went to war with Great Britain, each year, many of the colonists would join in celebrations of king. Annually, citizens would come together by ringing bells, creating bonfires, parading through the streets and making speeches in honor of the king.

The summer of 1776 was different though. While many colonists continued supporting the king through 1775, the following year saw a number of individuals holding mock funerals for King George III, as a way to symbolize his hold on the colonies as having been lost.

It would only be the next year that Philadelphia would hold the first commemoration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, even though they were still occupied with the war. By 1781, Massachusetts make the Fourth of July an official state holiday.

When the war was over, and the United States emerged as a sovereign nation, the country continued in celebrating the Fourth of July. Politicians locked onto the day, using it as a way to promote unity, as well as to further their own views.

It would be another war, the War of 1812, where the United States faced off with Great Britain once again, that the holiday would find a more sweeping hold on the country. Facing an imminent threat, the day was a way to remember what the country had already faced, and were able to overcome.

However, it wouldn’t be until 1870 when the Fourth of July would achieve the status of a federal holiday. Over the year though, the political importance of the holiday has waned, but it continued to remain as an important national holiday.

While the Fourth of July may not technically be the day in which the United States achieved its independence, it is still a day of patriotism. Whatever the shortcomings of the country may be, the day serves as a reminder of where the nation has come from, and what it could achieve.

For many it is now a day of inspiration, whether the history is remembered exactly or not.