Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Significance of July 2, 1776

"Resolved...That these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." - Richard Henry Lee, delegate of Virginia, submitting a resolution before the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776


We take for granted far more than we are willing to admit to, and when it comes to our history, this is no exception. Such might be the case with all peoples and all free nations, but in America in particular, we're so content with the generalities of our history that the facts are often forgotten or ignored, ignored because they are forgotten. Ignored because, most likely, they are not taught. Like the story of Washington with the cherry tree, we celebrate myth as much as fact. This is not so bad, in our case; but the truth is not just what sets us free - it made us free.

After all, it is one thing, is it not, to say that Lincoln freed the slaves in the Civil War, and then quite another to acknowledge that with the Emancipation Proclamation, he only freed the slaves in the South? I think so. And if you think the North was always so anti-slavery, read up on the vast numbers of slaves who entered America through Rhode Island. But I digress...

I'm not writing, here, about the Civil War. At least, not at much length. At the moment, I'm writing of an event - or rather, a series of events - without which the War Between the States in the 1860s might merely have been the product of an imagination rather than a consequence of intransigence and pride. It being the first week of July, 2008, I'm writing about - what else? - American Independence.

Take a look at this piece of correspondence, now just about 232 years old:

"The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."

Why was the future ambassador to the Netherlands and England, and lest we forget future Vice President and President of the United States, John Adams, so enthusiastic about July 2, 1776? So much so that he wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, with his feelings on the day that message's subject? (He wrote nothing of July 4.) Well, July 2 that year was a day of great significance.

"This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States..." - Charles Wilson Peale, an artist in Philadelphia, in his journal...July 2, 1776

Yes, at issue that day - July 2, 1776 - in the Continental Congress was whether the Thirteen Colonies would finally, officially break with Britain and go their own separate ways from George III and Parliament. Without that vote (twelve Colonies voted in favor, while New York abstained), there would have been little point to Congress then commencing debate over the final wording of the Declaration of Independence which had been submitted to them by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Benjamin Franklin.

Incidentally, on July 4, 1776, only the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, and the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thomson, actually signed the final draft of the Declaration approved that day. It would be another month before a different copy was signed by all the delegates at Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson was out buying ladies' gloves for his wife, and a thermometer, on July 4, 1776. That thermometer cost 3 pounds, 15 shillings, by the way.

Now, I'm willing to bet that a great majority of the Americans (and others) reading this had little notion of what happened on July 2, 1776 in Philadelphia. They probably have never cared, though ardent patriots they may consider themselves. In fact, to them, July 2 has probably always been just another day on the road to America's Independence celebrations. But, just as we must be conceived by sexual intercourse before our actual birth can be celebrated, America was created - by a wholly different type of intercourse - before it was actually born.

So if you love Freedom, raise a bottle or mug of Samuel Adams lager - if you have one - in a salute to the momentous vote which took place in Philadelphia 232 years ago today (you can of course toast using the beer of your choice; I merely stated my own preference). Do this in remembrance that but for the significance of July 2, 1776, the Fourth of July would be for us what it is for the rest of the world...just another day, to be foolishly taken for granted.


"The decree is gone forth, and it cannot be recalled, that a more equal liberty than had prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America." - John Adams writing to Patrick Henry, May 27, 1776, on hearing of Virginia's decision to support independence

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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