by Diane Rufino, July 4, 2018
Happy 4th of July!
We celebrate the 4th of July as our Independence Day but it’s really not the date that our country, comprised at the time of the 13 original colonies, became independent from Great Britain. The 4th of July is the date when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which is a very significant date in our country’s path to independence. With the Declaration, the colonies were proclaiming to the world their intent to separate or secede from Britain and establish themselves as sovereign independent states. That would be their goal in fighting the British. A single-paragraph resolution was passed prior to July 4 which simply declares the colonies’ independence. That simple resolution accomplished the goal of officially declaring independence from Britain. But the Second Continental Congress wanted a more detailed version, articulating the reasons for seeking independence, in order to make its case soundly “to a candid world.” To that end, Thomas Jefferson was delegated the important task. The character of the independent colonies would depend on the words and ideals that Jefferson wrote. And so, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted Jefferson’s grand Declaration of Independence.
The war with Britain began on April 19, 1775, with “the shot heard around the world” at Lexington. That was the date when the forces under Britain’s General Gage went looking to confiscate and destroy Boston’s arsenal of ammunition and thereby render them unable to defend themselves. But for the first year, the colonies, through the First Continental Congress, hoped to end hostilities and resume a good relationship with their mother country. And so it pursued a course of negotiations. But, as Patrick Henry emphasized in his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” speech: “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, how can we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation? There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight!”
And so the colonies came together. It was no longer a war only involving Massachusetts. If Britain could exercise tyrannical rule over the citizens of Boston and the rest of the Commonwealth, it would surely do the same to the other colonies. In the second year of the war, the Second Continental Congress conducted and managed the war as one for independence.
The Revolutionary War would end five years later, on October 19, 1861, when General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown. The war would officially be over, and the colonies officially recognized by Britain as 13 independent sovereigns on September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed by representatives of King George III and by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and David Hartley as representatives for the colonies.
The Treaty of Paris declared the intention of both parties to “forget all past misunderstandings and differences” and “secure to both perpetual peace and harmony.” It went on to state:
“Britain acknowledges the United States (New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) to be free, sovereign, and independent states, and that the British Crown and all heirs and successors relinquish claims to the Government, property, and territorial rights of the same, and every part thereof…..”
The revolutionary and magnificent principles articulated in the Declaration not only laid the political and philosophical foundation of our country but it changed the course of the entire world. Mankind has been eternally better off for those principles. But the sad truth is that most of the ideals set forth in the Declaration have been rejected by the very history of our country. The Declaration will continue to mean very little until we as a country reject and condemn the actions of Abraham Lincoln when he invaded, coerced, and subjugated the southern states back into the Union when they sought independence. And the Declaration will continue to mean very little until we reject the notion that our government has the right and primary purpose of seeking its own power and permanent existence rather than existing primarily to secure the fundamental rights of the individual (but subject to being altered or abolished when it ceases to serve that goal and instead frustrates the exercise of those rights).
But Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence will always stand as a testament to the best and most noble intentions of man in establishing an ordered society predicated on the inalienable rights of the individual.
HAPPY 4th of JULY!
*** I apologize for posting this article late, but my computer crashed and burned, and I had to research and purchase another.