July 3, 2008
Here is the play by play:
June 7, 1776.
Richard Henry Lee moves that the Continental Congress consider three motions: first, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved"; second, that the newly independent states form “foreign Alliances”; and, third, that they create a “plan of confederation.”
The Continental Congress delays consideration so that Delegates can get instructions from their colonies.When the debate resumed on July 1 four colonies refused to approve: South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York.
The hero of this tale has to be Caesar Rodney, who rode the eighty miles between Dover, Delaware and Philadelphia that night just in time to swing his colony’s vote on July 2. After that, John Dickinson and Robert Morris abstained and allowed James Wilson to cast Pennsylvania’s vote for independence; South Carolina changed its mind and now approved; and, New York abstained entirely until the next week when it also voted in favor of independence. 12 states voted for independence on July 2 and the Continental Congress called it "unanimous"--we were independent!
Thus, July 2, 1776 is America's birthday. In his excitement for the act that he had done so much to bring about JA wrote to Abby that:
"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
Why do we celebrate July 4 instead of July 2 as Adams believed that we would?
There are at least two answers that we can think of: first, there was a war on during the first anniversary and we simply forgot. The Records of the Continental Congress for July 2, 1777 show a deliberative body busily conducting the business of war: they empowered a Commission to find a Minister Plenipotentiary to go to Holland; they got a new surgeon general and a new member for the Board of War; they paid people for supplies; planned a discussion of the still un-ratified Articles of Confederation for the next day, etc. They were very, very busy boys on July 2, 1777. They continued their very busy schedule when they met again on July 3, they had Friday July 4 off and then met again on July 5. So they celebrated on July 4 because they had the day off--just an accident of history. In 1781 Massachusetts legislature was the first to make the celebration of Independence on July 4 official. Boston and North Carolina both made it an official holiday in 1783.
The second reason that we celebrate the Declaration of Independence rather than the day that we became independent is because of the politics of the 1790s--especially the second half of the 1790s.
Tommy didn't like A-Ham, nor did he like his politics or his view of an ideal America. A-Ham felt the same about Tommy. Founders picked sides, gloves were taken off, bitch-fighting began. Some folks--like GW--got caught in the middle; some folks--like JA--tried to stay out of it. Tommy resigned from GW's cabinet and became the mastermind of the opposition. GW resigned from office after his second term (future presidents would continue to self-impose two term limits on themselves out of respect to GW until FDR) and JA thought that he was a shoe-in for the post. After all, he had been the VP for 8 long years; he had seniority; he had negotiated the Treaty of Paris; he had been instrumental in convincing the Continental Congress to agree to independence on July 2. In short, he had his creds in order and he deserved it.
But, Tommy wanted it too. And, Tommy was pretty crafty. He had lined up his peeps behind him. Tommy did not have as many creds as JA though and so they had to make the most of the things that he did have. He had served as Minister to France after Benji came home; he had...um...run away from the British while he was Governor of Virginia (oops, best not mention that); well, he had written some things. Yeah, that's what he did, Tommy wrote a bunch of important things. He wrote the Summary View of the Rights of British Americans (for which he deserves much cred) and he wrote the Declaration of Independence--all by himself!--well, with a little help from the Drafting Committee, which included JA. So, you can see that Tommy was in a tough spot vis a vis his creds compared to JA.
Tommy's peeps began to make the Declaration into more of a big deal than it had been before--nobody thought to read the Declaration of Independence when they celebrated independence until Tommy's peeps began doing so as PR for how great Tommy was, for example.
JA got elected Prez in 1796 and Tommy got VP. By the 1800 election Tommy would tie with A-Burr for Prez, drama would ensue (eventually resulting in A-Burr shooting A-Ham in a 1804 duel). Tommy would finally win the top spot and JA would take off at 4 am so that he didn't have to watch Tommy get sworn into office. The two refused to speak for a decade, but then became friends again.
JA would always be pissed that Americans celebrate July 4 instead of July 2 believing that their doing so was evidence that they liked Tommy better than him. And, truth be told, Americans do like Tommy better than JA--even though Tommy had slaves and did some shady, shady things. JA just didn't have the personality for being adored--and, as a wise man once said "personality goes a long way."