Apparently we’ve been 2 days off.
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted a resolution stating “That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States.” Two days later, after further debate, it approved the Declaration of Independence, the document that, over time, brought eternal fame to its main author, Thomas Jefferson.
John Adams knew which day Americans would venerate. “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America,” he wrote to his wife Abigail between the two votes. It would be “celebrated” and “commemorated” by “succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” Adams predicted. “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Adams got the date wrong, but he was certainly right about how Americans would celebrate independence.
Commemoration is a different matter. When Americans commemorate the independence that Americans claimed in July 1776, we think little about the political decision that inspired Adams and much more about the egalitarian language that Jefferson placed in the preamble of the Declaration.
What transpired between that day and 1783 has to have been one of the biggest political upsets in Western History.
An upstart Republic beat the superpower of its time, with interests around the world. Although it is questionable if we could have done it without the help of the French. And within that, it was a handful of spies in Long Island, a hotbed of Loyalist sentiment, that may have just turned the tide by feeding disinformation in a Manhattan tavern. I’d tell you what transpired, but don’t want to be a spoiler. But it goes back to my long-held premise that many times the most profound changes in history pivot on the actions (or non-actions) of a single person.
Some things that surprised me about the American Revolution, or as the British properly call it, the War of Rebellion?
Politically, the colonies were divided into thirds.
A third actively supported the revolution, a third were loyalists, and the remaining third didn’t care one way of the other.
Afterwards, many of those Loyalists went to Canada or back to Britain. And if this is to be believed, having read a paragraph or 2 years ago in a British history magazine, one Loyalist was sailing with Captain Cook.
About 60,000 British convicts had been sent to Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia. But many of these weren’t what we’d consider hardened criminals, but men, women and children.
Anyway, after the war, this Loyalist convinced Captain Cook to try Australia as a penal colony.
With the loss of the American colonies, settlement of Australia began in earnest. And I remember a story from my visit there about a 16-year-old girl in Britain who was accused by a nobleman of horse thievery. Supposedly in reality she had spurned his advances, but in any event the magistrate gave her the choice of being hung or Australia.
And today some of her descendants are some of Australia’s prominent citizens.
Many times, history pivots on the actions of a single person.
I tend to believe that had we had a monarch like Elizabeth II rather than George III, we would have worked things out.
But we started a great experiment that is still ongoing.
One response to “Celebrating July 2nd”
I think adams got the date right. Congress passed the resolution on 2 July 1776. But they didn’t tell anyone until the 4th when Jefferson delivered the Declaration, iirc