The Declaration of Independence, the most important document in American history, begins with the above words. On July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress approved the document, the original 13 colonies embarked on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. Government, as the world knew it, was forever changed.
But that was 235 years ago. A lot has happened since then. So, today, I thought it would be a good idea to jog our historical memories with a short timeline and some trivia. Let’s look back at some events of the past that made us who we are and take a minute to savor all that we know about what we are celebrating.
First, it’s important to remember that the road to independence from England was a journey not a single event.
There were three sides in the colonist’s war for freedom against England: About 1/3 of the colonists were Patriots who wanted Independence. Another third were called Loyalists or Tories. They wanted to remain English and loyal to King George III. The remainder of the colonists were neutral.
The Colonists were an independent bunch and they had no say in the decisions of English Parliament over their affairs. Their major objection to being ruled by Britain was taxation without representation. Sound familiar?
In May 1776, after nearly a year of trying to resolve their differences with England, the colonies sent delegates to the Second Continental Congress. That June, after many meetings, they decided that their efforts at reconciliation were hopeless; a committee was formed to compose the formal Declaration of Independence. Headed by Thomas Jefferson, the committee also included John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. On June 28, 1776, Jefferson presented the first draft of the declaration to Congress.
The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence did not all sign the document at the same time, nor did they sign on July 4, 1776. The official event occurred on August 2, 1776, when 50 men signed it, nearly a month after the initial event. Thomas McKean was the last to sign in January 1777.
The names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were withheld from the public for more than six months to protect the signers. If independence had not been achieved, the treasonable act of the signers would have, by law, resulted in their deaths.
Betsy Ross, according to legend, sewed the first American flag in May or June 1776, as commissioned by the Congressional Committee.
Independence Day was first celebrated in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776. That same day, the Liberty Bell sounded from the tower of Independence Hall, summoning citizens to gather for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon.
June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress, looking to promote national pride and unity, adopted the national flag. “Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
The final battle of the American Revolutionary War was the Battle of Yorktown, 1781. Gen. George Washington’s resounding defeat of Lord Cornwallis’s British army caused the British to surrender and ended the war, five years after independence was declared.
The first public Fourth of July event at the White House occurred in 1804. The first Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi occurred at Independence Creek and was celebrated by Lewis and Clark in 1805.
And here’s an interesting piece of trivia: The Fourth of July was traditionally the most miserable day of the year for horses. They were tormented by all the noise from boys and girls who threw firecrackers at them! Some things never change.
The origin of Uncle Sam probably began in 1812, when Samuel Wilson was a meat packer who provided meat to the US Army. The meat shipments were stamped with the initials, U.S. Someone joked that the initials stood for “Uncle Sam”. This joke eventually led to the idea of Uncle Sam symbolizing the United States government.
On June 24, 1826, Thomas Jefferson declined an invitation to come to Washington, D.C., to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was the last letter that Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote. Both Jefferson and John Adams died that Independence Day, July 4, 1826.
In 1941, Congress declared the 4th of July a federal legal holiday. It is one of the few federal holidays that have not been moved to the nearest Friday or Monday.
Nationwide, there are 30 towns with “liberty” in their name. Liberty, Missouri (26,232) boasts the highest population of the 30 at 26,232. Iowa has more of these places than any other state at four: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty and West Liberty.
Eleven places have “independence” in their name. The most populous of these (113,288 residents) is Independence, Missouri, former home of President Harry S. Truman, and now part of the National Park System. The town is also home to the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.
Five places around the country have adopted the name “freedom.” Freedom, California, with 6,000 residents, has the largest population among these. There is one place named “patriot” — Patriot, Indiana, with a population of 202.
And what could be more fitting than spending the day in a place called “America”? There are five such places in the country, with the most populous being American Fork, Utah, with 21,941 residents.
Today, this most important of American holidays is traditionally celebrated with parades, fireworks and backyard barbecues across the country. Now that you’re armed with some facts and trivia, share it with your friends and neighbors to really celebrate the day.
Happy Fourth of July everyone!