Celebrating The Real Fourth Of July

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - by Linda Moss Mines
As the Tennessee Valley and the nation prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, reviewing the origins of this commemorative day could add a special touch to family commemorations.

Mention the Declaration of Independence and many of us can recall a class in which we were introduced to the ‘Founding Fathers’ and the words, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another. . .”.  Most people are even more familiar with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
” Years later, using these rights as a launching point, many of the same ‘Founding Fathers’ penned a Constitution and a Bill of Rights to legally guarantee protections regarding life and liberty. But what series of events led to that historic meeting in Philadelphia during the late Spring and hot summer of 1776? What are some of the most interesting facts about the Declaration of Independence?

After the French and Indian War ended, the British government found itself with an empty treasury. Parliament pondered possible methods for replenishing the coffers and decided that the British colonies in North America should contribute funds to ‘repay’ for the cost of a British victory during the war. There were at least two problems with this solution to Britain’s financial woes:  1) The colonists believed that they had fought alongside the British armies and that they had exhibited more skills in fighting a frontier campaign, and 2) They were not allowed to participate in the debate regarding increased taxation. Parliament added fuel to a smoldering fire when it issued the Proclamation of 1763, limiting colonists’ westward expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains. For the next thirteen years, the colonists found themselves increasingly taxes and regulated by a government that had previously governed indirectly and from a distance.
From the Stamp Act to the Intolerable Acts - - from the Gaspee incident to the Boston Massacre, the distance between the colonists and the British government widened. Few colonists considered a separation; instead, most simply wanted to be guaranteed the rights enjoyed by English citizens, formalized in the Bill of Rights [1688].

By 1775 and the Battles of Lexington and Concord, reconciliation appeared impossible. British soldiers and colonial minutemen engaged in skirmishes across the colonies and the Second Continental Congress considered its options. While the Congress was initially divided on the issue of separation from Mother England, strong voices convinced the majority that independence was the most logical step. How could the Congress explain this revolutionary move? John Hancock appointed a five-member committee to draft a document that would provide the reasons. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston began the process by appointing Jefferson as the chief author. Seventeen days later, Jefferson presented a draft to the Congress and debate began. By the end of June 1776, an agreement had been reached and a copy was readied for the delegates’ signatures. 

As families celebrate this Fourth of July, consider reading the Declaration of Independence aloud or share these facts:

1. John Hancock, President of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. His bold signature reminds us today that each of the delegates who signed the document was committing treason according to Parliamentary law. The punishment for treason was death.

2. Fifty-six delegates signed the Declaration of Independence with seventy-year-old Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate to sign the document while South Carolina delegate, Edward Rutledge, was the youngest at age 26.

3. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented the resolution for independence,  “That these United Colonies are, and of right out 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; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”

4.  General George Washington gathered his forces in New York and had the Declaration of Independence read aloud to them. 

5. The Liberty Bell rang out across Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, summoning citizens to the Pennsylvania State House for a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The building was become known as Independence Hall.

Fly your flag. Pause and consider the courage required to sign the Declaration of Independence and the resolve necessary to endure years of armed conflict. Freedom was won by our patriots and the Fourth of July is a wonderful day to remember their passion for liberty, equality and justice.

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Linda Moss Mines is the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Historian and an active member of the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.

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