Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Glorious Second of July

Writing from Philadelphia to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts on the third day of July, 1776, John Adams, a member of the Continental Congress, said:

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.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
What's that he wrote? That "the Second Day of July" will be celebrated "as the great anniversary Festival"? Didn't he mean the "Fourth Day of July"?

Original resolution for American independence from July 2, 1776
True enough, the "succeeding Generations" that Adams foresaw have, since 1777, celebrated Independence Day as July 4th, which was the day that the Declaration of Independence (drafted by Charlottesville lawyer Thomas Jefferson) was approved by Congress. (It was not signed, contra the famous Trumbull painting and the Peter Stone-Sherman Edwards musical 1776, until August 2, almost as an afterthought.)

Adams's enthusiasm stemmed from the 12-0-1 vote (New York abstaining, "courteously") on July 2nd, approving a resolution proposed by another Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, which stated:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.
The first sentence is echoed in the Declaration of Independence, which made the case for why Lee's resolution should have been passed in the first place. The second sentence was realized after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which proved to the French government that allying with the American rebels might pay off politically. The third sentence was brought to life by the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, drafted that same year but not ratified until 1781 (and superseded, seven years later, by the U.S. Constitution).

Adams understood the act of independence to have been performed on July 2, 1776. The rest was merely decoration.

And still, our "Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations" will occur on the Fourth of July (unless you're in Crozet, where festivities are scheduled for Saturday, July the 6th).

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