If it had been up to John Adams, Independence Day would have been celebrated on the second of July.
After all, that was the day the Continental Congress voted nearly unanimously in favor of a resolution for independence put forward by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee.
Adams, who would go on to become our nation’s second president, wrote to his wife, Abigail, that day that the occasion would be celebrated by succeeding generations with “Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
He was right about the methods of celebration but wrong about the date. Instead, the new government chose July 4, the day the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence written by Adams’ long-time nemesis, Thomas Jefferson.
This weekend, America marks the 244th anniversary of that occasion.
When a copy of the declaration reached New York City on July 9, George Washington read it aloud in front of City Hall, and emotions boiled over. The crowd tore down a statue of King George III, and that statue was eventually melted down to be shaped into musket balls for the revolutionary army.
Many of the men who signed the declaration sacrificed greatly.
Robert Morris lent the fledgling government $10,000 early in the war, and he continued to underwrite the privateers sneaking supplies past the British naval blockades. Ten years after signing the Declaration of Independence, Morris died in relative poverty at the age of 73.
Richard Stockton managed to move his family to safety when the British overran New Jersey in November of 1776, but he was captured and imprisoned. He lost all of his extensive library, his writings and all of his property, and he died a pauper in Princeton at the age of 51.
Carter Braxton lost nearly all of his wealth, and Thomas Heyward Jr. was taken prisoner by the British while in command of a militia force during the siege of Charleston. Arthur Middleton spent more than a year as a prisoner of war and then lost most of his fortune.
This weekend, we honor these and other brave men and the sacrifices they made in pursuit of freedom.
As a result of the pandemic, this year’s celebration might be a bit less festive than in years past. Still, regardless of the way we mark the occasion, we should all take time to honor those who added their names to that declaration.
Thanks to them, we have the opportunity to live in the greatest country in the world, and in spite of the occasional setback, our nation’s grand experiment in self-government marches on.
Happy birthday, America.