BY: Bob Barney
Jul 1776 – IS AMONG the most important and surprising events in history. On July 2, 1776, Congress met to consider the adoption of that immortal document penned by Thomas Jefferson;—the Declaration of Independence. It was generally understood that a final decision was to be made on the fourth, and thousands eagerly waited to hear the words written and signed by the Continental Congress. The Fourth of July is American, but the roots of the day are ancient. Some scholars believe that it was on this same exact date in history that Persia destroyed Solomon's Temple!
The Declaration of Independence itself has become one of the most admired and copied political documents of all time. It was written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson.
The Declaration of Independence is a justification of the American Revolution, citing grievances against King George III. It is also a landmark philosophical statement, drawing on the writings of philosophers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. It affirms that since all people are creatures of God, or nature, they have certain natural rights, or liberties, that cannot be violated.
Following its adoption, the Declaration was read to the public in various American cities. Whenever they heard it, patriots erupted in cheers and celebrations.
In 1777, Philadelphians remembered the 4th of July. Bells were rung, guns fired, candles lighted, and firecrackers set off. However, while the War of Independence dragged on, July 4 celebrations were modest at best. Written on the Liberty Bell are these words: "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10), yes words from Leviticus. Our forefathers knew who we really are!
When the war ended in 1783, July 4 became a holiday in some places. In Boston, it replaced the date of the Boston Massacre, March 5, as the major patriotic holiday. Speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks marked the day. In 1941, Congress declared July 4 a federal holiday.
The second president, John Adams, would have approved. "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," he wrote his wife, Abigail. "It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."
John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration. With its ornate capitals, Hancock's sprawling signature is prominent on the document. Since then, when people are asked for their "John Hancock," they are being asked to sign their names.
All 56 men who ultimately signed the Declaration showed great courage. Announcing independence from Great Britain was an act of treason, punishable by death.
Jul 4, 1826 - The 4th of July, 1826, will long be memorable for one of the most remarkable coincidences that has ever taken place in the history of nations. It was the fiftieth anniversary—the "JUBILEE"—of American independence ! Two of the greatest Americans, who helped author the document and lead the nation through the war were friends that became bitter enemies. Though friends in their youth, disagreements separated Thomas Jefferson and our second President John Adams in later years. They were eventually reconciled toward their twilight years and though they never saw each other again after Adams left the White House to be replaced by Jefferson, in the last 14 years of their lives they exchanged 156 letters, some of them quite warm. This correspondence is generally regarded as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen.
They both died on the same day, July 4th, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two of the last three signers. At the age of 91 John Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair and died that afternoon, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson would have said “wrong, as usual.” In his last days his health had failed and he passed in and out of consciousness. On the 4th of July, 1826 just a few hours before Adams died — in his home in Monticello, Virginia — surrounded by his daughter and some special slaves, shortly after noon, at the age of 83, Thomas Jefferson died. His last words were, “Is it the 4th?”
On July 4, 1863; a national tragedy also begun. The battle of Gettysburg, where our nation went to war with each other, and emerged a union gain! Then on the same day in 1876, the 100th anniversary of the signing, the nation was shocked again to learn of the Custer massacre at the Little Big Horn!
The Declaration and the American Revolution have since inspired freedom-seekers the around the world. The fourth of July has been a day of blessings, sorrows and “signs”. It is our national day! Celebrate it, be proud of it, and LEARN from it.