On July 4, 1776, in language certain to inspire the patriots of the time, and gall the King and England, a Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress. The Declaration was the defiant culmination of years of struggle between the new nation and its former protector. In rousing terms it listed the causes of the split and described the principles on which the new nation intended to govern itself.
Virginian Thomas Jefferson is credited with principal authorship of the document. With help from John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, the document affirmed the July 2 decision by Congress to separate from Britain.
To some, Jefferson’s language sounded like a creed for future generations of Americans. Others wondered if his stirring words would apply to all Americans, or just those most directly served by the all-white, all-male, all-propertied members of the 2nd Continental Congress.
What was certain was that Congress had come a long way since it first gathered in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. Few of its members then could have guessed that it was about to lead America into this decisive and seemingly irrevocable break with England.
To a degree, Congress’ hand was forced. Tensions between British troops occupying Boston and the denizens of that city were bound to erupt, as they did famously a year before at Lexington and Concord. A subsequent engagement at Bunker Hill made it doubly hard to uncross the Rubicon.
The Declaration of Independence was heavily influenced by Thomas Paine whose Common Sense pamphlet pushed the collective consciousness toward independence. Paine spoke in plain English to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who read it: “We have it in our power to begin the world anew.”
By the spring of 1776, the spirit of independence had caught fire throughout the colonies. Royal governments were ousted one after another up and down the eastern seaboard, and colonial assemblies began drafting their own constitutions. People were intoxicated by freedom.
Americans were then faced with the consequences of their actions. British troops withdrew from Boston and made their way to New York for confrontation. General George Washington and the Continental Army would be waiting.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence and penned the words that have inspired many generations of American statesmen, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” By cutting ties from the British Empire, a country arose from the ashes of a bloody revolution, which at the time was the only nation not ruled by a queen or king. The United States of America was created with this document and would eventually come to be known as a place that welcomed—and continues to welcome—people from all walks of life.
Each year, about 680,000 U.S. immigrants take the Oath of Allegiance during naturalization ceremonies, in which they promise to “Support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies.” In fact, more than 24,000 immigrants over July 4th week were invited to celebrate in such historic locations as George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., and aboard the USS Constitution in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
We hope you all celebrated July 4th with barbecues and enjoyed your local fireworks. Happy Independence Day!