The Second Continental Congress, the governing body of the Thirteen Colonies, assembled in Philadelphia on June 11, 1776, for the purpose of drafting a document that would formally sever all ties with Great Britain. They appointed a committee of five prominent colonial leaders to write it: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Jefferson, an eloquent writer, was chosen to author the document. On July 2, the Continental Congress voted to legally separate themselves from England, and on July 4, after hours of debating the formal document and having previously made some eighty-six changes, the final version was adopted and signed. With the Declaration of Independence, all ties with Great Britain were broken and a new nation, the United States of America, was established. Today, the Declaration of Independence is still one of our nation’s most cherished documents and stands as a symbol of freedom and liberty.
Independence from England and the establishment of a new nation were celebrated first in Philadelphia with public readings of the Declaration of Independence, followed by ringing bells and fireworks. This custom eventually spread throughout the colonies, then across the entire country. As the nation grew, Independence Day continued to grow with it. In 1870, congress made it a national holiday. In 1938, the day officially became a federal holiday; meaning then people would get the day off from work. Today, the holiday remains a patriotic celebration of the freedom Americans cherish.
America’s founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that the document, with the purpose of removing the colonies from the dictatorial rule of Great Britain, could literally be their own death certificates. Britain was the strongest military power in the world at that time. They had the largest numbers of ships and well-trained troops to unleash the wrath and the might of their military on a relatively defenseless group of colonies that didn’t have the number of arms or trained men to stand up to such a military might, much less hope to defeat them militarily. Ultimately, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were putting their lives and their family’s lives on the line against all odds.
Most people living in the colonies at that time were totally fed up with the British authority and domination. They worked and existed at the pleasure of King George III, basically as indentured servants, yet wanted to be free to make their own decisions and to self-govern their new nation. They desired to breathe the fresh air of freedom, something then that was only a dream.
Sometimes what is overlooked in our nation’s history is how destructive the Revolutionary War really was to the new nation. In describing the war, many early writers depicted horrible fighting, rivers of blood and death, and personal tragedies. In addition to these, though, there were severe financial issues to be dealt with by many, issues such as bankruptcies in which families lost businesses and where farms were destroyed, the results of which tore apart numerous other families. Securing a new nation that was based on individual freedoms came at a terrible cost.
The motivation of that generation of Americans who fought in the Revolution was tremendous, and they proved to be unstoppable. To them, it was a matter of freedom or death. Nearly everyone played a role in this battle and their dreams of creating a nation based on freedom and liberty prompted them to continue to push on. That seemingly impossible dream of a nation under God with unalienable rights endowed by the Creator, with equality for all, with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as their incentive indeed proved to become a reality.
We owe these early, brave individuals a huge debt of gratitude that can only be paid by remembering their immeasurable sacrifices, by honoring their determination, and by holding on to that for which they paid so dearly. As we celebrate Independence Day this year, let us truly be proud of our great nation and its remarkable heritage. Our forefathers would have expected nothing less. Happy Independence Day!