Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day

A Brief Look Back -- 240 Years Later

Did you know that the Continental Congress actually declared independence from Great Britain on July 2? It did; and in a letter to Abigail from Philadelphia the next day, John Adams wrote: “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.”

Indeed, the July 2 Congressional resolution was used in the last section of the Declaration of Independence, and states as follows: “That these United Colonies are, and of 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 . . . .” We celebrate July 4 as it is the day Congress adopted the formal and lengthier written Declaration.

Congress appointed a committee to draft the Declaration. As stated on his tombstone at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, a committee member, was the author. But Jefferson, being the humble statesman that he was, originally wanted Adams to take the lead in drafting. In an 1822 letter to Timothy Pickering, Adams described how it was that Jefferson came to take the lead:
Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught. I said I will not; You shall do it. Oh No! Why will you not? You ought to do it. I will not. Why? Reasons enough. What can be your reasons? Reason 1st. You are a Virginian, and Virginia ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason 2d. I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular; You are very much otherwise. Reason 3d: You can write ten times better than I can. “Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided I will do as well as I can.” 
Celebrating today, we must remember that this enterprise was fraught with great peril. In his July 3 letter to Abigail foretelling the celebrations to come, Adams also recognized the challenges that lay ahead.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. 
Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Legend has it that the last words of Adams were that Jefferson survives, but Jefferson actually died a few hours earlier.

The official transcription of the Declaration at the National Archives is here