America’s Independence Day holiday doesn’t actually celebrate the day that colonial independence was declared (that occurred on July 2nd). It celebrates the day the Declaration of Independence (a type of Petition of Right that can trace its roots back to Magna Carta) was signed. The man given most of the credit for writing the Declaration of Independence is Thomas Jefferson, who later became the third President of the United States. Jefferson certainly had a flair for writing, but he received help drafting the Declaration from four other members of the drafting committee: John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Robert Livingston thought it was a bit premature to declare independence from Britain and he refused to sign the document he helped draft. Although the document lays out a series of grievances against the British crown, what is most remembered about it is its preamble, which, in part, reads:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
People often forget that the Declaration didn’t actually form a nation. Colonial governments were still very much in charge. The Continental Congress, however, began the process of deciding how the colonies turned states would unite. In early 1781, the states finally ratified the Articles of Confederation. Although the Articles of Confederation established the United States of America, leaders under the Articles were designated Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled. The first such President was Samuel Huntington, who had also been a signer of the Declaration. Technically, that made him the first President of the United States, not George Washington. Since the Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled served only for a single 1-year term and had no specific duties, they had no lasting impact on the nation. On the other hand, George Washington, as the first elected President following the ratification of the Constitution, had a profound impact on the new nation. He rightfully deserves the historical acclaim he has received.
Two members of the drafting committee, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were fierce political opponents who nevertheless carried on a lifelong correspondence. Interestingly enough, they both died on the fourth of July 1826. As we attend parades and watch fireworks this holiday, we should pause and remember the sacrifices that the founders of the nation had to make when they boldly signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. From all us at Enterra Solutions®, we wish you a happy and safe Independence Day holiday.