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There are key moments in time where one can say “I’m proud to be an American.” Through victories in World War I and II, the moon landing, and winning gold at the Olympics, the annals of history have numerous examples that define the exemplary character of the United States. Yet if you were to take a step back and think about the most impactful moment in this country’s legacy, it is arguably July 4th, 1776. Independence Day.
The 4th of July carries various meanings for the average person, both on a historical and personal level. However, to talk about the latter, you have to be aware of the former in order to build the proper context. To truly understand the significance of Independence Day, it’s important to look at what factors led up to it, the aftermath, and how it affects us today.
Prior to declaring independence, the United States comprised thirteen colonies in North America under the watchful eye of Great Britain and its ruler, King George III. At first, the colonies enjoyed relative freedom with the British Crown, but that would soon change. There was not one definite cause for the American Revolution, but rather a powder keg ready to burst based on concepts such as political representation and recouping money after the French and Indian War.
Tax measures such as the Stamp Act and Tea Act, which respectively imposed further taxes and affected trading, added more stress to an already disgruntled set of colonists who felt that their voices were not being heard in British parliament. Eventually, this led to protests and reactionary violence, most notably the Boston Massacre in 1770 that led to five colonists being killed. Three years later, the infamous Boston Tea Party took place, in which a group of Boston colonists dumped over 300 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor.
After the passage of the Intolerable Acts in response to the Boston Tea Party, the makings of independence were in motion. The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774 to not only air grievances for their individual colonies but to discuss how to solve them. However, one year later, they would find themselves at the start of the Revolutionary War thanks in part to the “shot heard round the world” at the Battle of Concord.
Fast forward to July 2nd, 1776. By that point, the growing movement towards independence from British rule was reaching an apex as word continued to spread across towns. The Second Continental Congress had once again gathered in Philadelphia to formally vote on what would be famously known as the Declaration of Independence.
Representatives from each of the thirteen colonies made their cases for and against the ratification. Aside from New York, who voted to abstain, every colonial delegation voted to declare independence. Two days later on July 4th, the Declaration of Independence was officially edited by Thomas Jefferson. Although it would be signed on August 2nd, the 4th of July is recognized as the “official day of independence.”
“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.” These words from the Declaration of Independence carried with it the foundation of the new United States as they continued their battles against the British.
Suffice to say, Great Britain did not take the news of American independence positively. Some within the British press ridiculed the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence as “self-destructive,” while members of the aristocracy were worried at what might occur. However, the country was relatively quiet with a response until King George III declared that the colonists had “openly renounced all allegiance to the crown.”
The Revolutionary War raged on through the rest of the 1770’s, resulting in France’s official involvement by 1778. The Americans and British traded victories across Valley Forge, Camden, and Cowpens while support for independence at home and Great Britain continued to grow. Lord Charles Cornwallis joined the fray for the British and added to the American casualties.
Perhaps one of the most vital battles in this war was the Battle of Yorktown on October 19th, 1781. General Cornwallis’ surrender to the Americans led the way for Great Britain’s eventual resolution to end the war. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3rd, 1783, officially marking the end of the conflict and cementing the United States as a free nation.
When reflecting on how the 4th of July shaped this nation, it’s more than just the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. That moment is symbolic of the very nature of freedom. In the case of the colonists, it was freedom to represent themselves diplomatically with their own laws, systems, and identities. However, the message of that day is much deeper.
The Second Continental Congress - and specifically the Founding Fathers - knew that what they were doing could amount to treason against King George III. They understood that, should they fail, they would be imprisoned or even killed for their actions. Despite that looming threat, they did it anyways and secured the country’s independence for centuries to come. Their thought process was rather profound: do what it takes for the betterment of our people.
That mindset stays with the United States and its citizens today. When situations get tough with the economy, social issues, wars overseas, or politics in general, Americans can think about the 4th of July and what those men were willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen. The 4th of July is more than just backyard grilling or shooting off fireworks. It is a celebration for pursuing the noble thing for your friends, family, and community despite overwhelming odds. That date will always be synonymous with the very things the United States had, has, and will always fight for every day. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.