As the United States prepares to celebrate our 241st birthday, we thought we’d take a moment to share an excerpt from Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author David McCullough’s compelling novel, 1776.
In the midst of all of the annual festivities and fireworks, it’s easy to forget some of the critical events that led to where we are in our nation’s history, now nearly two and a half centuries later.
In many respects — and despite some of the gravity of what was to come during the Revolutionary War — many Americans living when the ever-famous Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 were having a rather good time as well!
In Philadelphia, the same day as the British landing on Staten Island, July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress, in a momentous decision, voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain. The news reached New York four days later, on July 6, and at once spontaneous celebrations broke out. “The whole choir of our officers . . . went to a public house to testify our joy at the happy news of Independence. We spent the afternoon merrily,” recorded Isaac Bangs.
A letter from John Hancock to [General George] Washington, as well as the complete text of the Declaration, followed two days later:
That our affairs may take a more favorable turn, the Congress have judged it necessary to dissolve the connection between Great Britain and the American colonies, and to declare them free and independent states; as you will perceive by the enclosed Declaration, which I am directed to transmit to you, and to request you will have it proclaimed at the head of the army in the way you think it most proper.
Many, like Henry Knox, saw at once that with the enemy massing for battle so close at hand and independence at last declared by Congress, the war had entered an entirely new stage. The lines were drawn now as ever before, the stakes far higher. “The eyes of all America are upon us,” Knox wrote. “As we play our part posterity will bless or curse us.”
By renouncing their allegiance to the King, the delegates at Philadelphia had committed treason and embarked on a course from which there could be no turning back.
“We are in the very midst of a revolution,” wrote John Adams, “the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”
In a ringing preamble, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the document declared it “self-evident” that “all men are created equal,” and were endowed with the “unalienable” rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And to this noble end the delegates had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Such courage and high ideals were of little consequence, of course, the Declaration itself being no more than a declaration without military success against the most formidable force on earth. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, an eminent member of Congress who opposed the Declaration, had called it a “skiff made of paper.” And as Nathanael Greene had warned, there were never any certainties about the fate of war.
But from this point on, the citizen-soldiers of Washington’s army were no longer to be fighting only for the defense of their country, or for their rightful liberties as freeborn Englishmen, as they had at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and through the long siege of Boston. It was now a proudly proclaimed, all-out war for an independent America, a new America, and thus a new day of freedom and equality.
At his home in Newport, Nathanael Greene’s mentor, the Reverend Ezra Stiles, wrote in his diary almost in disbelief:
Thus the Congress has tied a Gordian knot, which the Parl [iament] will find they can neither cut, nor untie. The thirteen united colonies now rise into an Independent Republic among the kingdoms, states, and empires on earth. . . . And have I lived to see such an important and astonishing revolution?
At a stroke the Continental Congress had made the Glorious Cause of America more glorious still, for all the world to know, and also to give every citizen soldier at this critical juncture something still larger and more compelling for which to fight. Washington saw it as a “fresh incentive,” and to his mind it had come not a moment too soon.
As we reflect on our nation’s founding, all of us here on the Entrematic team wish you and your family a very happy, safe and enjoyable Independence Day 2017!