The title bears a question, to some a easy one to others not so much...because we declared our independence from England. And because Wal-Mart puts out the the amazing cupcakes with red, white, and blue frosting. They are my favorite part of the day- along with the ribs, apple pies, and drinking while playing with high explosives'! It is a wonderful day. But, in light of the countries recent events, I really sat down to think if I completely understood why I celebrate the 4th of July. The answer was just as I thought- I celebrate it because I know that we declared our independence from England, that a few men wrote on parchment that we were "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" - but I did not know the details of why this was a important holiday for our country or who were some of the back stage managers in making this document happen.
So, I left the party I was at (don't worry social distancing was practice and no one shared their apple pie), and decided to do some deep and dirty research while drinking coffee at 830p.m. while listening to the fireworks being shot off in the land midnight sun- not sure how that is working out for my neighbors, but they seem happy.
Did you know that there is a difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? I asked my kids this question and they looked at me with blank stares and said 'Duh mom'. Then I asked my youngest what was the difference and the silence was overwhelming. The light finally shined and he said- 'rights of individuals to live as they want'. Oh, boy.
So here it is- no, the Declaration of Independence was the announcement to King of England that the American colonies were no longer going to be under their rule. It listed a number of grievances against the Crown such as imposing taxes without consent, cutting off our ability to trade with other countries, keeping 'Red Coats' in our cities without us wanting them to be there, the King forcing colonies to send a list of laws that needed his seal of approval before becoming enforceable, the King preventing migration to the colonies and banned the colonist from moving west past the Appalachians, and the icing on the cake was that in 1774 the King passed the Quebec Act that expanded the French Catholics territory into the mid-west. The Quebec Act was really the final straw for the colonist's and it in that year that the First Continental Congress meet to discuss what actions they were going to take against the King. On April 19, 1775, the Revolutionary War began in Massachusetts with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
So on July 2, 1776 the Second Continental Congress voted and approved the Declaration of Independence that was drafted by John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. On July 4, 1776, the final edits were approved by the Congress members and it was sent to John Dunlap who made 200 copies. On July 8, 1776, Colonel John Nixon read the declaration to the public in what is now referred to as Independence Square. Fun fact- George Washington read the Declaration of Independence in front of City Hall in New York City on July 9, 1776. Of course this led to a riot because the British had naval ships in the harbor and the colonist's tore down a statue of King George III and which was then melted down to make 42,000 musket balls according to History.com.
Interesting facts about the Declaration of Independence- 8 of the 56 signers were born in the United Kingdom (the United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, I had to look this fact up as it has always confused me): Button Gweinnett and Robert Morris were born in England, Francis Lewis was from Wales, James Wilson and John Witherspoon came from Scotland, George Taylor and Matthew Thornton were from Ireland, and James Smith was born in Northern Ireland. In other post we will talk about the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland because there IS a difference.
In my research of notable signers I came across a story that I was not at all aware of which I believe needs shout out. Richard Stockton who was a lawyer from New Jersey was considered to be a moderate at the Second Continental Congress and disagreed with extremists on both sides of the argument. Stockton even drafted a plan in 1774 that would have given the colonies their independence without renouncing the Crown. The king rejected this plan and Stockton became a supporter of the revolution. However, he was a good logistical minded person who thought about how the country would pay for the war, raise a army, pay the army, and was concerned on how to establish a federal government with still allowing the individual colonies some control. Stockton was the first Congress member to sign the Declaration of Independence. Now, according to History.com, Stockton recanted his support of the Declaration of Independence after he was captured by the British during the Revolutionary War when George Clymer and himself was sent to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and Albany to check in on the Continental Army and report what supplies they needed. They were captured by loyalists and were tortured, and according to this website- this is when Stockton recanted his signature in order to be paroled and released.
However, 'The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence' refutes this claim based off a letter that General William Howe (Red Coat) wrote to the British Parliament that stated "at no time had a leading rebel sought pardon". In fact, it was General George Washington directed by Congress on January 3, 1777 who approached General Howe to protest the inhumane treatment of Stockton. When Stockton was paroled it meant that he was forbidden to help the war in any way and he resigned from Congress. Stockton went home to find that General Cornwallis (Red Coat) had destroyed his estate and burned his library which was considered to be the finest in the colonies. It took Stockton 2 years to recover from his time in the hands of the British prison guards and while he tried to regain his position in society, the lies of the recant plague him even after it was announced that it was all lies. Unfortunately, Stockton developed lip cancer and died February 28, 1781 and was never able to witness his country's independence after all that he did for it.
John Dunlap- the printer that made the 200 copies of the Declaration has a pretty cool story himself. He was born in Strabane, Ireland in 1747 and moved to Philadelphia to live with his uncle when he was 8 or 9 according to libarayireland.com (he was 10 according to founderoftheday.com). His uncle was a printer and publisher, and by the age of 18, Dunlap was in charge of his uncle's paper and started the Pennsylvania Packet. During the the British occupation in 1784, Dunlap established the first daily paper in the the country which is called the 'North American and United States Gazette'. He not only printed the Declaration, but he was also a officer in the Washington's body-guard at Trenton and Princeton and provided 4,000 sterling pounds toward provisions to the Army.
On the Declaration of Independence that Dunlap printed, there were only 3 signatures. John Hancock as the President of the Congress, Charles Thomson who was the Secretary of the Congress (the only man who was not elected but hired by the Delegates) serving as witness to the signing, and John Dunlap who signed the document at the bottom for free advertisement as was common practice at that time. So, when the document was read for the first time to the colonist's- Dunlap's name was considered to be just as important as John Hancock's. Interestingly, there is also a female signature on copies of the Declaration of Independence that was published in 1777, this one including all the delegates signatures. Mary Katharine Goddard, who is sometimes credited with being the first United States government female employee served as the Baltimore postmaster, and printed hundreds of copies of the Declaration of Independence with her name in full print on the bottom of the document.
Last fun fact about July 4th, the first official national celebration took part in Philadelphia in 1777; but John Adams refused to attend because he believed that our Independence Day actually took place on July 2nd when the vote for break from England actually occurred.
I am sure that you are wondering when did July 4th become a national holiday, it wasn't until after the War of 1812 (see previous blog about the second Revolutionary War) when the political parties of the nation were having issues figuring themselves out that the Declaration of Independence even began to be a thing for the nation. The document was reprinted for national view with the date of July 4, 1776 boldly attached. Then both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826- further laying a magical sense to the date. In 1870, Congress declared July 4th a national holiday (with paid time off to Federal employees) along with Christmas, New Years Day, and Thanksgiving.
And there we have it- a quick overview of the Declaration of Independence and the importance of the 4th of July. Later we will move into the Constitution- but we will save that for another day- like Constitution Day which is celebrate September 17 along with Citizenship Day. Did you know that? Nope, neither did I. Cant wait to do the research on that one.
I hope you all had a great 4th of July! I know with the unrest in the country it was maybe not as celebrated as it usually is, but regardless- our founding fathers started something magical and I believe that we need to celebrate their vision and improve on it daily. This country has always fought to be its better self and it will continue that fight! On to the next moment in history. If you have an ideas on what you want to learn more about or something you want more notice of- just let me know and we will get it out there for the world to see. Or for the 12 people who actually read my blog- either which way, the story is being told.