Declaring Our Independence
It’s July 2!!
Happy Independence Day!!
Many of us grew up with the impression that the Founding Fathers declared independence from Britain when they approved and signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It is now more widely known that the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, actually declared independence on July 2. John Adams, writing to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, noted that:
Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.”
In a second letter to Abigail, written later that same day, 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. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
I became aware of this second letter from John Adams to Abigail several years ago, but I did not realize that a response from Abigail also existed. In a letter dated July 13, Abigail Adams responded to her husband’s extraordinary news:
[T]ho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightned by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country; nor am I a little Gratified when I reflect that a person so nearly connected with me had the Honour of being a principal actor, in laying a foundation for its future Greatness. May the foundation of our new constitution, be justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it.
I also wondered how other Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, shared the news of this most significant of events through their correspondence during July of 1776. Although a few letters exist, none reach the heights of enthusiasm exhibited by John Adams. George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, was in New York while the Continental Congress was declaring independence in Philadelphia, but he had similar thoughts on his mind. General Orders issued on July 2, 1776, state that:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses, and Farms, are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the Courage and Conduct of this army—Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission; this is all we can expect.
Thanks to the availability of Founders Online, I was able to easily search for and discover these additional documents. What other topics await further discovery?