For something special this Independence Day, we asked JAR contributors a simple but thought-provoking question. Their answers are insightful and remind us of the broad range of people and events that transformed thirteen British colonies into the United States of America. How would you answer this question:
If there was another national holiday, in addition to July 4, to commemorate an event of the American Revolution, what would it be and why?
Todd W. Braisted: While the Fourth of July is the holiday most people associate with the American Revolution and the birth of the United States, the event itself only set the course for the next seven years of struggle. The sacrifice of lives and fortunes enabled the words on the paper to become reality. Why not, then. celebrate the event that brought it all to fruition, the Treaty of Paris in 1783? September 3 could be VA Day, Victory in America, as VE and VJ Day were celebrated at the conclusion of World War II. If nothing else, it might give people pause when they see the gap in years between 1776 and 1783 and desire to learn more of the events in-between those years. One can always hope.
Rand Mirante: “Capture Day” on September 23 (U.S. only) to mark the fortuitous and pivotal apprehension of Major Andre in 1780. And/or “Capes Day” on September 5 as a French national holiday (or even a Franco-American joint holiday) to commemorate both a (the?) decisive 1781 event of the War and that rarest of outcomes: a decisive French victory over the Royal Navy.
Lars D. H. Hedbor: September 3, to commemorate the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris, which formalized Great Britain’s recognition of the independence of the United States as a separate and equal member of the community of nations. Too, it would make a nice bookend to the April 19 celebration of Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and other places, and which marks the opening shots of the war at Lexington and Concord.
R. J. Rockefeller: January 14, “true independence day,” for ratification by Congress of the Treaty of Paris in 1784.
Larrie D. Ferreiro: February 6. That was the date in 1778 of the signing in Paris of the Treaties of Amity and Commerce and military alliance with France. We may have declared ourselves independent on July 4, 1776, but under international law, we did not actually achieve sovereignty until another great power recognized us as an independent nation. So February 6, not July 4, marks the TRUE beginning of the United States as a sovereign nation.
Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick: September 17, the date when twelve out of the thirteen states signed the US Constitution in 1787. Although the date is on some calendars, it is usually treated as a small footnote as compared with July 4. This date formed the government which still binds our nation together today.
Nichole Louise: I can’t pick a specific event, but rather, I’d create another holiday to commemorate the unsung people of the American Revolution: the women, the enslaved people, the indigenous populations (like the Oneida who allied with the Continentals).
Tom Shachtman: I nominate a Constitution Day, to celebrate what the Revolution produced and made possible, our democratic, constitutional government and the rule of law. We could set it at April 30, the day on which George Washington and the first Congress were inaugurated in 1789.
John Concannon: June 10, Gaspee Day, when brave Rhode Island colonists attacked and burned the British revenue schooner Gaspeein 1772. The Crown reaction was to set up a kangaroo court and send suspected people off to England to be tried. These threats to common rights of British citizens galvanized the colonists to realize they were not going to be treated as equal to British citizens, and sparked the movement towards unification of the American colonies.
John K. Robertson: I think the event to be commemorated would be the date on which the Treaty of Peace that granted us our Independence was signed.
Gregory J. W. Urwin: April 19, Patriots’ Day, is already observed as a holiday in Massachusetts. That was the day in 1775 that a contest of words and political maneuvers transformed into an armed rebellion. It’s the day that sparked the American Revolution.
Louis Arthur Norton: There is another “holiday” already on the books. It is Evacuation Day, celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine (which was part of Massachusetts until 1820). This was the first time that the British turned tail and set the war in the correct motion.
Andrew Waters: The question reminds me of a quote from Henry Clinton: “This leads me, of course, to mention an event which … unhappily proved the first link in a chain of evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America,” he wrote in The American Rebellion. This was October 7, 1780, the Battle of Kings Mountain. I may be biased. October 7’s reputation as the day the British lost the war is hard to resist here in western South Carolina, home to many of the Patriots who fought there. But Clinton and I aren’t the only ones who feel this way. Under an index listing labeled “King’s Mountain, general British defeat following,” Cornwallis biographers Franklin and Mary Wickwire add, “After King’s Mountain every element of Britain’s forces— regulars, provincials, and militia— was beaten.”
Ray Raphael: would like to celebrate October 4, 1774. On that day, the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, voted “to raise from the dissolution of the old constitution [the 1691 Massachusetts Charter, which Parliament had just gutted], as from the ashes of the Phenix, a new form, wherein all officers shall be dependent on the suffrages of the people, whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure.”
George Kotlik: August 6, 1777, commemorating the Battle of Oriskany, a frontier battle that turned the tide of the war in the North. The battle delayed British General St. Leger long enough to stop his rendezvous with Burgoyne at Albany, thus eliminating one prong in the three prong British strategy of isolating New England colonies. Furthermore, this frontier battle alludes to a much larger concept of the frontier playing a role in granting the ability of North Americans to secede from British rule. Oriskany serves as a symbol for American frontier opportunity as well as furthering the idealized notion of an immigrant nation (most if not all of the American forces present at Oriskany were German immigrants).
Ken Daigler: December 26, Washington’s 1776 victory at the Battle of Trenton. Washington’s victory, while only a small tactical success in pure military terms, ensured the continuation of the Continental Army as one of only two organizations which represented an independent country. A weak and questionably effective Continental Congress was the other. After constant defeats and staggering losses, Washington’s surprise attack and sound victory provided the necessary motivation to keep the army intact and insure replacement troops from the states. Without this success, the war could have morphed into small scale guerilla actions which eventually would have resulted in a political settlement significantly different than what occurred. Also, more in my field of study, Washington effectively used intelligence in his planning for the attack and, learning from his success, began to regularly employ intelligence activities as a “force multiplier” in future actions against the British.
Conner Runyan: For me, there is only one real candidate, October 7, the day the British lost the war at Kings Mountain, North Carolina in 1780. This was the first real major Patriot victory following the “Reduction” of Charleston in May. British hopes of winning the war— the much-touted British Southern Strategy— were built on securing their left flank (Georgia and the Carolinas) and turning Northward to link up with General Clinton and the British Navy. At Kings Mountain, the dominos started tumbling and never really stopped. No one hour of the American Revolution is more decisive than the one that took place on October 7, 1780 at Kings Mountain.
Robert N. Fanelli: September 5, to commemorate the opening the First Continental Congress in 1774. By then, America was already on a collision course with Britain, not only over political disagreements about colonial liberties, but due to the emergence of profound cultural and economic differences between the two peoples. The Continental Congress catalyzed a national response to the developing crisis, establishing what were effectively committees of self governance in communities throughout the “thirteen colonies.” These committees, initially extra-legal, gradually assumed the functions of new state and local governments operating independently of British control.
Robert M. Dunkerly: For me it has to be the surrender at Yorktown, October 18, 1781. Not only does it represent American victory on the battlefield-showing military competence/capability, but it was the battle that broke the British will to continue the fight. The Declaration is certainly the most important, but military success was also key.
Jett Conner: We should expand Constitution Day and Citizenship Day in the United States to a national holiday. The day is already observed in schools on September 17 as a day for teaching about the U.S. Constitution. The date was when delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia in 1787. The day was previously and continues to be a day celebrating America’s newest citizens. But as the Treaty of Paris—ending the American Revolutionary War in 1783—was made between Britain and the “free, sovereign, and independent” states of America, and because the Articles of Confederation, our first national constitution, was really just an alliance of those sovereign states, the American Revolution was not completed until the federal government was created by the ratification of the new Constitution. In Common Sense Thomas Paine urged Americans to declare independence from Britain and form a “Continental Conference” to create “a government of our own.” We should celebrate our Constitution, and new American citizens, too, with a new national holiday, on September 17.
Benjamin Huggins: “Yorktown Day,” October 19, the day the British commanders signed the articles of capitulation at that siege in 1781. When Lieutenant General Cornwallis surrendered his British army to the combined Franco-American army commanded by General George Washington besieging it at Yorktown, it effectively ended the Revolutionary War. Because the victory secured American independence it is arguably the greatest battle in American history.
Alec D. Rogers: October 19. No one realized it in 1781, but that was the date when American went from independence declared to independence achieved.
Kelly Mielke: I would commemorate the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Acknowledged locally as Carolina Day, the battle of June 28, 1776, took place only days prior to the Declaration of Independence’s issue and garnered several notable outcomes at a key time in Revolutionary history. The battle gave the Patriots their first victory over British forces in a major battle. The timing could not have been better as it underscored the potential of eventual victory alongside the Declaration of Independence. The victory also forced the British to abandon their plans to overtake the South; it would be four years before they successfully occupied Charleston. Had the Patriots been defeated in the 1776 engagement, the outcome of the war could have been very different—we might not even be celebrating the 4th of July! As Americans pause to celebrate the nation’s birth, it’s worthwhile to remember the Patriot victory that significantly altered the course of the war and bolstered morale as the colonists embarked on their journey to nationhood.
John L. Smith, Jr.: I’d combine the celebration of the two most decisive American victories, which by convenient coincidence occurred only two days apart in October 1777 and 1781. The October 17 anniversary of the British surrender at Saratoga could serve as the date, since that was also the date Cornwallis asked for a cease-fire at Yorktown although the official surrender took place two days later. Such a holiday, perhaps called “Revolutionary Victory Day,” would include both the North and South, making it more “national,” and it would also call attention to Washington’s success at Yorktown, since his birthday has now been subsumed into the generic “Presidents’ Day.” The holiday could be commemorated at Revolutionary battle sites across the country, and serve as a teaching moment for young people who know too little about America’s founding struggle.
Taylor Stoermer: My holiday candidate recognizes the personal nature of the American Revolution as a conflict over loyalties and sovereignties: June 24, 1776, the date that the Continental Congress resolved that anyone in America who did not owe their allegiance to the United Colonies should be considered guilty of treason and accordingly punished. While the Congress had already passed four resolutions dealing with the thorny issue of the “disaffected” who had not cast their lot with the patriots, and many colonies had required oaths of allegiance, the resolution of June 24 drew a final line — one was either with the colonies or against them. It became treason to think differently, not just to act differently. As one Virginia loyalist put it, they were pursued and arrested “for the nefarious crime of thinking—the sentiments of the minds should be collected from the silence of the tongue.” It was the moment that the Revolution entered the minds of Americans and forced them to make choices, patriot or loyalist, American or British, because quiet neutrality — remaining a British American — was no longer an option. If nationhood is, by any measure, a choice of identity, then this was a key moment in the creation of the American nation, even if the American state had not yet been proclaimed. It’s easy enough to point to a date that celebrates a political and intellectual achievement, like adoption of the Declaration of Independence. But such holidays tend to clean up the rough edges of history, promoting a myth of unity, when difference was the reality. By celebrating June 24, 1776, perhaps we can restore the sense — missing since the end of the Revolution and the purge of the loyalists — that being both British and American was better than either without the other.
Kim Burdick: Yorktown Day!!!!
William W. Reynolds: October 19, the day Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, is worthy of a holiday, because it effectively ended the war, though the treaty was not signed until 1783. Realistically, the British had no stomach for sending more men and materiel to fight in America and apparently all the involved parties knew it at the time. As an alternative I suppose a date associated with the Treaty of Paris could be considered, but it would seem somewhat obscure compared with the dramatic events at Yorktown.
Hershel Parker: May 20. I think there is absolutely no doubt that the citizens of Charlotte, North Carolina, declared Independence on May 20, 1775, with the Mecklenburg Declaration.
William Taylor: February 6, the day in 1778 when Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and Arthur Lee—the diplomats sent by the Continental Congress—met with the French Foreign Minister, Charles Gravier, Compte de Vergennes in cold and rainy Paris to finalize an alliance between the newly declared independent United States and France. February 6 witnessed the signing of two monumental treaties, a Treaty of Amity and Commerce as well as a Treaty of Military Alliance which collectively pledged the support of France to aid the fledgling country commercially, financially, and militarily. Beside the importance of this support, these treaties also signal the first time that the United States was recognized as a sovereign nation. A final facet of what makes February 6 so appealing is the fact that it would be a national holiday that celebrated not only the determination and resolve of American patriots such as Benjamin Franklin, but also the significant contributions of the French to the American Revolution, an important reminder of the benefits of international cooperation.
Larry Kidder: January 3. Washington’s victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777 reversed feelings on both sides that the Revolution was on the verge of failure, and began a resurgence of revolutionary spirit and confidence, along with renewed respect for Washington who displayed the decisiveness and determination some people felt he lacked. January 3 capped off ten days of military activity beginning soon after publication of Thomas Paine’s The Crisisthat so eloquently stated the desperate condition of the Revolution. These ten days also influenced General Howe’s determination to attack Philadelphia before heading north in 1777 to connect with Burgoyne and St. Leger, resulting in another turning point at the Battle of Saratoga. Lord Germain, reflecting in 1779 on better times in December 1776 when his government seemed on the verge of victory, lamented to Parliament that because of Washington’s victories that began at Trenton and culminated at Princeton, “all our hopes were blasted.”
John Knight: June 8, Common Cause day. Had the Colonies not worked together there is little doubt the British would have subdued the Revolution piecemeal State by State. In response to the “Intolerable Acts” passed in the spring of 1774, the Boston Committee published a circular reminding all colonists that they “suffer in the common cause.” It was a potent cry taken up throughout the thirteen Colonies and still seems relevant today.
Steven M. Baule: I would select February 6 based upon the date that France first recognized US independence in 1778, according to the US State Department answer. Other dates that could fill in would include April 19, 1775, the day hostilities began. September 3, 1783, the day the Treaty of Paris was signed should really be the official birthday, as that is when we were truly free of Great Britain.
John Grady: Yorktown day, October 19. Although fighting continued and the peace treaty hadn’t been signed the British knew then they could not prevail – the cost was too high. With luck, they could hold Canada.
Roger Smith: Before the Revolution, the birthdate of King George III was one of the most recognized calendar events in the colonies. With independence won and the Fourth of July solidified as the nation’s greatest holiday, post-Revolutionary Americans found unity in George Washington’s birthday; celebrating King George was easily replaced with the jubilee of Washington’s birth. Washington provided the sense of calm that the nation needed so desperately in our early years. When Washington died, the nation deified him in paintings, toasts, and services. Washington’s birthday became more than a national holiday; it was the anniversary of a gift from God. Imagine, then, how our forefathers would feel at learning that during the length of just one generation we had demoted the birth of the Father of Our Country to something as benign as an excuse for another bank-holiday.
Geoff Smock: John Adams contended that Independence Day on the 4th was but a mere “theatrical show.” Though he aptly predicted that Independence Day would be celebrated as a “great anniversary festival” for generations to come, he was also adamant that the true work of declaring independence had been done long before— in a select few of the measures he helped shepherd through Congress, and in the hearts and minds of the American people. The latter became truly independent when they stopped praying for King and Parliament, but instead “thought it their Duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen State Congresses, &c.” Accordingly, I would urge my fellow countrymen to honor May 15, the day Adams’ resolution advising the thirteen states to create new governments for themselves was passed by Congress. As Adams wrote , this resolution amounted to “a total absolute Independence” for the United States of America. If nothing else, celebrating the 15th of May would recognize the more substantive role Adams played in leading America toward Independence— much more substantive than the role played by Jefferson.
Gary Shattuck: March 1, 1781, the date on which the newly-formed thirteen states ratified the Articles of Confederation that had held them together during the preceding few years. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union sought to bind the thirteen sovereign states in a cooperative arrangement beholden only to a weak central government. In essence, it served as our nation’s “first constitution,” even providing for the election of our first “president” to preside over the Congress. Those accomplishments notwithstanding, the methods dictated by the Articles were deemed ill-suited at war’s end as special interests threatened to divide the country. Congress came to appreciate that another form of government was required and which resulted in their crafting a second constitution, the one of 1787 and which we now celebrate. So, remember the Articles of Confederation as without them there would probably not have been near the accord, such as it was, that existed among the new states allowing them to successfully take on the most powerful nation in the world.
Nancy K. Loane: December 1, to celebrate the arrival of Baron Steuben on American soil in 1777. Steuben was indispensable to the success of the Continental Army, and therefore to the establishment of the United States of America. Not only did Steuben school the soldiers of Washington’s army, but he also wrote the training manual (the “Blue Book”) they used. He commanded in the southern campaign and at Yorktown. General Washington thought so highly of Steuben that the last letter he wrote before resigning his own commission was to “My Dear Baron,” thanking Steuben for his contributions to American liberty. Celebrating December 1, we would all wear red (as Steuben arrived in America wearing a scarlet jacket), eat wurst, and write a “thank you” note.
Michael Jacobson: I would suggest Evacuation Day- November 25, 1783. The day marks the end of British occupation of New York City and represents a definitive end for the American Revolution. Throughout the early 1800s, New Yorkers celebrated Evacuation Day annually at a level that rivaled July 4 celebrations with fireworks, parades, and general revelry. Given its close proximity to Thanksgiving, we could merge both holidays. Think of the marketing for the sales – “Everything must go!”
Robert Scott Davis: I am divided between the British surrender at Saratoga on October 17, 1777 and the surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Both events represent so much more than the clash of armies. They each also show, for example, how the civil war that had broken out between Americans had settled on the side of the new nation. Here is an idea, celebrate October 17-19 or split the difference and celebrate October 18!
William M. Welsch: As a New Jersey guy with a Trenton interest, I would suggest the battle of Trenton on December 26, but it’s too close to Christmas. There are too many evacuation days, like New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston, etc., for one to be national. Massachusetts’ Patriots Day would be a great choice, but I fear they wouldn’t be willing to share it. How about a Treaty of Paris Day? No, too esoteric. So, my choice would be a real Washington’s Birthday holiday and not just the faux President’s Day. Washington is certainly most deserving. Or perhaps, October 19 as Victory Day— the day of Cornwallis’s Yorktown surrender. October is a quiet holiday month (only Columbus), so it would fit well.
Stuart Hatfield: It would be easy to the pick the day of battle that was won—Kings Mountain, Cowpens, even Yorktown would be good days to remember in holiday form. It would be too easy, though, to fall back on that as they are just points in time, links in the chain. With that in mind, celebrate September 3, 1783 the signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. The day that the Treaty of Paris was signed was the day that the United States of America went from theory to fact. Without that nothing else really mattered. No battles won or documents signed would have any meaning except as footnotes of a failed rebellion.
Christian M. McBurney: September 17, 1787, when a convention of delegates in Philadelphia signed the Constitution of the United States of America. Battles are of crucial importance, but mainly because of what they create. And in this case, the Revolutionary War spawned something wonderful not only for our country, but for the world. Washington resigning his commission at Annapolis would be up there too, establishing civilian control over the military. The U.S. military has handled that magnificently since.
Daniel M. Sivilich: I would like to see April 19 as a national holiday to commemorate the battles of Lexington and Concord. That was the day that changed this country forever. A group of British citizens put their lives on the line and become traitors in the eyes of the British Crown by standing up against seasoned British regulars in an act of mortal defiance. The actions of the brave patriot Minutemen on April 19, 1775 led the other twelve colonies in unifying their support for separating from England thus creating a need for a Continental Congress that ultimately led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That is why the shots fired on that day have been referred to as “the shot heard around the world.”
Matthew M. Montelione: August 27 should be remembered in honor of the Battle of Long Island. The Battle of Long Island was the first major engagement of the Revolutionary War, and its outcome—a dominant British victory—demonstrates the true contingency of the conflict. I would suppose that, in summer 1776, not many people in the colonies believed that the Continentals could defeat the Crown.
J. Brett Bennett: So many dates and important milestones worthy of commemoration come readily to mind—both military and political. However the one that stands apart is September 3, when in 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed. Beyond ending hostilities, the agreement both recognized the United States as free and independent and established western boundaries that would allow for significant expansion. Moreover, despite the subsequent but relatively brief conflict with Britain in the early 19th century, the treaty was an expressed commitment toward restoring “good correspondence and friendship … between the two countries” as well as the “peace and harmony” which we enjoy with Great Britain to this day.
Gene Procknow: Commemorating the day that the Treaty of Paris was signed which ended the Revolutionary War celebrates actual independence and the substantial assistance received from other nations and individuals. To this day, most holidays are nationalistic or religious. Therefore, recognizing and celebrating the contributions of many nations and peoples in the nation’s history is unique and reminds citizens that international cooperation leads to lasting peace and greater prosperity.
Wayne Lynch: October 19, the day Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. I realize the war was not over and a good number of Patriots continued to lose their lives in the fighting around Charleston and Savannah. However, it felt like the end to those who participated and it still sort of feels that way today. American independence was not won on July 4, 1776 and, while declaring ourselves independent was a bold thing to do, the actions taken on that day were only a statement of intent that left the real battles still to be fought.
Michael J. F. Sheehan: I would have to suggest April 19. Not only is it the day the war began with the actions at Lexington and Concord in 1775, but it is also the day Washington announced a cessation of hostilities in 1783; the day perfectly symbolizes the start and end of the American War for Independence.
Samuel A. Forman: I propose the third Thursday of each November as End of the Revolutionary War Day. It roughly coincides with New York City Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783. Political milestones of the Peace of Paris, and separate peace treaties between Britain and France, and Britain and American ally Spain occurred earlier that Fall, but news travelled slowly across the ocean and British General Carleton had sought and been granted by George Washington additional time to complete a peaceable evacuation. Additional rationale for commemorating the true close of the Revolutionary War as late 1783, rather than the Yorktown victory of October 1781, include appreciation for the smaller yet consequential events of the U.S. post-Yorktown experience: Native Americans’ dominance and British mischief in the Northwest Territory, allied Spanish conquests ejecting Britain from West Florida (including modern Mississippi and Alabama), and the fate of African-Americans and Loyalists. A conflation of Thanksgiving Day and End of the Revolutionary War Day is not a new idea. None other than George Washington promoted the idea of rendering pious and religiously informed thankfulness for the seeming miraculous turns that witnessed American political and military efforts surmount countless obstacles. In his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1789.
Joshua Shepherd: April 19, commemorating the events that unfolded at Lexington and Concord. It’s already a holiday in a few states, but an appropriate contender for observance nationwide. Wars are often viewed from the top down, and with the hindsight of centuries. The king and his ministers, Parliament, the Continental Congress; they all contributed to mounting tensions and nearly open rebellion during the spring of 1775. But April 19 was expected to be nothing more than a mundane workday in rural Massachusetts. Early that morning, common men – husbands, fathers, sons – were swept up in epic events largely beyond their control and gathered to shield their families and community from hundreds of armed outsiders who weren’t welcome. Some of those men died within sight of their homes. Certainly they deserve to be remembered.
Richard J. Werther: I would take a global view and have a day that commemorates the Revolution as a whole. It just got its own museum; it’s time for its own holiday! I think we need to address the lack of good civics education in the country, and such a day could be set aside to do that. Despite our faults, people still risk their lives to come to our country, so we must be doing something right. From time to time I think we need to be reminded just how fortunate we are and what a legacy the Revolution has left us. With our current cultural divide, interpretations of the Revolution are going to differ across political lines, but I still believe there are some bedrock aspects we can celebrate together. Date-wise, I would set this to coincide with the New England celebration of Patriot’s Day.