Today, Americans celebrate the anniversary of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence.
Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
However, the freedoms, rights and privileges we share because of this event continue to be protected by the sacrifices of many men and women across the globe; we honor and celebrate their service, as well.
At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolutionary War was already underway (1775-1783.)
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument.
The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers.
What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.
Fifty-six men from each of the original 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence – they mutually pledged “to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Nine of the signers were immigrants, two were brothers and two were cousins. Eighteen of the signers were merchants or businessmen, 14 were farmers and four were doctors. Twenty-two were lawyers and nine were judges.
The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70; the youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr of South Carolina at 27.
The British captured five signers during the war. Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward and Arthur Middleton were captured at the Battle of Charleston in 1780. George Walton was wounded and captured at the Battle of Savannah; Richard Stockton was incarcerated at the hands of British Loyalists.
Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s New York home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture.
Fifteen of the signers participated in their states’ constitutional conventions, and six – Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, James Wilson and George Reed – signed the US Constitution.
Here are some other brief Revolutionary War highlights (and some other July 4 events:)
March 23 – Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech
April 18 – The rides of Paul Revere and William Davis
April 19 – Minutemen and redcoats clash at Lexington and Concord “The shot heard round the world”
June 17 – Battle of Bunker Hill (Boston) – the British drive the Americans
Throughout the year, skirmishes occurred from Canada to South Carolina
Initially, fighting was through local militias; then, the Continental Congress established (on paper) a regular army on June 14, 1775, and appointed George Washington as commander-in-chief.
The development of the Continental Army was a work in progress, and Washington used both his regulars and state militia throughout the war.
January 15 – Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ challenged the authority of the British government and the royal monarchy
March 17 – the British evacuate Boston
April 26 – Sybil Ludington (16 years old) rode through upstate New York to warn militia that British troops were raiding and burning Danbury, Connecticut
Ultimately, on September 3, 1783, the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. The treaty document was signed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay (representing the United States) and David Hartley (a member of the British Parliament representing the British Monarch, King George III).
On June 21, 1788, the US Constitution was adopted (with all states ratifying it by that time.)
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Carroll were the longest surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence; Carroll was the last signer to die – in 1832 at the age of 95.
“As is apt to be the case wherever on earth or at sea there are Americans, Independence Day was celebrated. At Honolulu, Saturday, July 4, 1818 …”
“… there was a dinner provided by Mr. Warren, at which were about twenty white men and the principal chief of the island, Bokee. There were a number of appropriate toasts drunk to American Independence. The day and evening were spent in mirth and harmony.” (Hunnewell)
On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawai‘i was established at Ali‘iōlani Hale; Sanford B. Dole became its first president.
July 4, 1913 – Duke Kahanamoku established three new West Coast records in swimming, winning the 50-yard, 440-yard and 220-yard races in a San Francisco regatta.
“He started in five events, won them all, established new records and, besides this, won the last lap of the relay race, which of necessity gave him another victory, though in this he was aided by his other three mates.” (San Francisco Call, July 6, 1913)
Following statehood of Hawaiʻi, the new flag of the United States of America, containing a union of 50 stars, flew for the first time at 12:01 am, July 4, 1960, when it was raised at the Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland.