Hopefully, this article finds you taking a quick on-line reading break from enjoying what is a wonderful observation of that most American of holidays: The 4th of July. With this year seeing the 4th fall on a Sunday, the US government is observing the 5th as the Federal Holiday, but I am willing to wager that if people can, they will be taking some extended weekends/much needed leave/vacation. Much like Memorial Day, there will be no shortage of summer/outdoor activities, between picnics/barbeques, beach trips/pool visits, get-togethers will no shortage of food/drink and perhaps, if the weather cooperates in your part of the world, a return to fireworks displays and concerts that normally populate this glorious day.
This will be the 245th iteration of this day that celebrates when the United States, originally a band of 13 colonies and other occupied territories on the North American continent, decided that they could no longer remain a member of the British Empire and through their official proclamation of the Declaration of Independence, the US declared itself free and independent of the British Crown. The final approval for the language of the Declaration came on the 4th of July, 1776. Since then, the US holds that as the “official” birthday of the USA.
Yet, is it? This is always a bit of a fun historical debate (augmented by adult beverages consumed in a safe manner). While the 4th is the official day, the real back story is a bit more complicated. Setting aside the mythology and artwork of the entirety of the Continental Congress voting to approve and all signing the document at the same time, the actual “birth” of the US is a complex birth, with many a milestone. Perhaps the most consequential of those non-4th dates would be 2 days earlier. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress, made up of the 13 colonies, voted 12-0 (with New York abstaining until July 9th) to approve the motion to declare independence. At this point, there was no turning back for the US, crossing the Rubicon of Independence. Congress spent the next two days recommending edits to the document
However, the final evolution of the Declaration went well beyond the 2nd-4th timeframe. John Hancock put the first signature on the document on July 4th, and on July 8th, the Declaration was publicized, being released and read aloud in Philadelphia. The other delegates did not add their signatures before August 2, 1776, and even then, not everyone signed that day. The last signature on the document came after January 1777 (Thomas McKean’s signature did not appear on the “official” document published that month, and was added later). Thus, if your criterion is when the Declaration of Independence was completely signed, sealed and delivered, then this pushes the birthday back a bit. While we now might view that a moment of great celebration, most of the delegates signed with the knowledge that this document could just as easily serve as their order of execution.
Additionally, the political declaration didn’t amount to much without the military victory to back it up. While some in the US could celebrate the political liberation, the military situation was nowhere near as optimistic. As the delegates in Philadelphia worked to approve the Declaration, Washington and his forces were bracing for a major British offensive which struck New York City in July 1776. If not for the most fortuitous fog in US history, and arguably the most well-executed retreat in American, if not military history, the story of US Independence could have ended just as quickly as it began.
The fortunes of the fledging nation hung in the balance at least until the British defeat at Yorktown on October 19th, 1781. Even then, the British still maintained sufficient forces to threaten the US homeland at least until September 3rd, 1783, when the Treaty of Paris saw the British, however begrudgingly, accept defeat in the Revolutionary War and the emergence of the new nation. In theory, that further reduces the age of the US and when it could really call itself an independent nation. You could continue on that line of thinking until the War of 1812, and the two concluding dates, be it the Treaty of Ghent (December 23, 1814) or the Battle of New Orleans (January 15, 1815). With the end of the War of 1812, the US pretty much assured itself a future where no major power would so directly threaten its independence.
The debate of “true” American independence can vary. There is an argument to be made that the real birth of the nation came not with the Declaration of Independence, but with the creation and ratification of the US Constitution, moving the birthdate to September 18, 1787, or you could push that date to when it was official ratified by a majority of the states (June 21, 1788). That document continues to define the American system of government and the big, overarching definitions of what it is to be American. Admittedly, this opens the door to some other dates for consideration, depending on what information you fill in on an official US census, but in the interest of keeping some of the political discourse out of this blog, I will let you read between the lines and make up your own damned mind.
As seen here, history is never as simple or clear-cut as we would like it to be, or as official holidays would make it seem. It was likely that Jesus was not born in early winter, but in the spring, but we still place his “birthday” on Christmas in late December. You could probably make an argument that we should change the Christmas holidays to more accurately reflect the reality, but I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on that happening. The 4th of July, “true” day of independence or not, is just as good a day as any to honor the start of the “American” nation.
To that end, we at Battle Red Blog wish all a great and happy 4th of July (or for our fanbase in England, Happy Treason Day). Please do take the time to enjoy yourselves and your time with your loved one. As always, we ask that you enjoy the holiday in a safe and healthy manner. We want our readers to come back in the same shape (or better) after the holiday than they did before.