Today, July 4, Americans celebrate independence from Great Britain, independence that was proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence. This is an important thing to commemorate, and July 4 is a good day to do it – even though many of the things that are celebrated did not occur on that date. Over the years JAR has published a number of articles about the Declaration and the important dates associated with it. Follow the links in the paragraphs below to become an expert on the subject, but don’t spoil July 4 for others by telling them that they’re wrong about things. Enjoy the day, because it is a day set aside for celebration.
The American Revolution began long before 1776 – in fact, the revolution began before the Revolutionary War broke out; colonists rebelled in 1774 (after a chain of events that began in previous years), which brought about a war that began in 1775.
The Declaration was not written on July 4, nor was it ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4. It was a contentious act. There was much debate among colonial governments about whether, and when, to declare independence. The Declaration was based on the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who had years before written may of the ideas expressed in it. Although the final document was written largely by Jefferson, it embodied ideas that had taken hold widely in the American colonies. Besides describing the fundamental reasoning behind separation from British rule, it listed twenty-seven specific examples of colonies being denied rights guaranteed to British citizens.
A copy of the Declaration was read in public for the first time in Philadelphia two days after it was adopted by Congress. After that, it took some time to collect the signatures of delegates from each of the colonies on the official copy that most Americans are familiar with. Learn more about that in our article about signing stories. It also took time for the news to spread in America and abroad.
Asserting independence from a government headed by a king meant appealing to a higher power than the king. In the minds of the era, there was only one higher power, the god of nature. The whole point, though, was to get away from government by divine right, so it was essential to exclude appeals to higher powers in Constitution adopted in 1787. After all, a government of the people, by the people and for the people could not be subject to the beliefs of only a portion of those people.