(Photo source unknown)Most people know that we generally celebrate the independence of the United States on this day. Apparently some don't know from whom we became liberated and most cannot tell you what actually happened on July 4, 1776. So here's a rundown for you, so you can win your next trivia contest.
April 19, 1775 - American Revolution technically began with the shot heard round the world. Lexington and Concord still quibble about who fired/suffered the first shot.
June 11, 1776 - Continental Congress appointed a committee of five (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman) to draft a declaration of independence. Jefferson takes on the initial draft which is modified by committee members.
June 28, 1776 - The Declaration is presented to the Continental Congress and further modifications are made, including this provision which was completely omitted (whether it was omitted in committee or in congress is unclear):
He (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Interestingly, Jefferson owned slaves but yet took King III to task for fostering the slave trade. The Southern delegates would have no part of it, however, and the clause disappeared.
July 2, 1776 - Congress declared the United Colonies to be independent of Great Britain.
Continental Congress resolves these United Colonies are & of right ought to be Free & Independent States. John Adams thought this would be the day that went down in history to be forever celebrated but alas and alack, that fell to July 4.
July 4, 1776 - Congress approved and ratified the final wording of the Declaration and that was the date printed on the Declaration.
August 2, 1776 - Most of the delegates signed the declaration but it would be months before all 56 signatures were affixed. And one delegate would never sign. Robert Livingston, who was on the original committee of five to draft the document, didn't think it was the right time to declare independence or was recalled by his state, depending on what you read.
November, 1776 - A copy of the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain
So, there is a rough timeline but what about the contents of the declaration itself? The second paragraph contains what are among the most well-known words in American history: 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.
The document then goes on to list 27 accusations against King George III which are intended to further justify this radical move by the Colonies. Let Facts be submitted to a candid World.
Here is a very brief background of two of the complaints, the 7th and the 27th. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the French Indian War and part of the terms included King George drawing a line along the Appalachian mountain ridge and declaring that everything west of that belonged to the Indians. Only he could make treaties with them and all further migration was forbidden. This was anathema to the colonists who considered all land theirs for the conquest.
Complaint 7 - He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
And here is Complaint 27. He (King George III) has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.
You know the subsequent history for Native Americans who dared to inhabit "our Frontiers." Genocide, relocations, broken treaties, massacres, and boarding schools for Native American children that continued right up into the 1970s, all done to the "merciless Indian Savages". Slavery, persecution, murder, and racial prejudice continued on for African Americans and today we still need to remind everyone that black lives matter. Women continue to strive for equal pay and our LGBT population can now get legally married but can still get fired or denied housing for being gay.
"All men" were created equal, but that was a small and privileged group back in 1776. Let's temper our independence celebrations with an honest and realistic look at our history.
(Photo source unknown)