American Independence Day is officially celebrated on July 4, the day that the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was a momentous act of rebellion against George III, but open warfare had already begun more than a year before, ushered in when Paul Revere and two friends swiftly acted to warn their fellow Sons of Liberty and rebels that British troops were on the move.
The Sons of Liberty were a loosely organized secret group aimed at destabilizing British rule over the American colonies and intimidating the people loyal to them. They had operated for at least 10 years, mobilizing in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Act, a tax on documents that the British Parliament repealed after a year of fierce opposition. But, by 1773, the British and the colonists in America were close to war when the Sons dumped 92,000 pounds of tea in Boston Harbor, an act known today as the Boston Tea Party. By April 1775, the British had had enough and were sending troops to take the guns from rebels, seize gunpowder and arrest the leaders of the Sons, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.
On the evening of April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren contacted his friend Paul Revere and instructed him to ride from Boston to Lexington, Mass., to warn the Sons that British troops were coming by water. Revere was to take up the alarm, alerting colonists around Boston of the impending threat.
Days before, he had contacted a friend, most likely the sexton of Boston’s Old North Church, to signal when British troop movements were known by putting a lantern in the steeple of the church.
Famously: One if by land and two if by sea. Fellow Sons of Liberty across the Charles River would be waiting to know if the British planned to row “by sea” across the river to Cambridge.
Two friends rowed Revere across the river to Charlestown, where he snuck past a British warship in the darkness and mounted a borrowed horse for his famous midnight ride. The munitions were saved from British seizure and the next day, an unknown soldier fired the “shot heard round the world” that began the Battles of Lexington and Concord — the first battle of the American Revolution.
Paul Revere, accompanied by at least three other riders, successfully raised the alarm and mobilized the local militia. His ride became famous much later, though, in the famed 1861 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow whose fictionalized version made Revere a star. According to the poem, Revere shouted “The British are coming!” but, in fact, he shouted the more prosaic “The Regulars are coming!”
Independence Day quiz: patriotic quotes
Do you know who made these patriotic statements?
1. “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.”
a. George Washington
b. John Adams
c. Benjamin Franklin
d. Thomas Jefferson
2. “America is another name for opportunity.”
a. Jack Kerouac
b. Henry David Thoreau
c. Jon Krakauer
d. Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.”
a. Martin Luther King, Jr.
b. Ronald Reagan
c. Rosa Parks
d. John McCain
4. “America, to me, is freedom.”
a. Johnny Cash
b. Kris Kristofferson
c. Willie Nelson
d. Lyle Lovett
5. “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”
a. William Faulkner
b. Thomas Wolfe
c. Willa Cather
d. John Steinbeck
6. “The fact is, with every friendship you make and every bond you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world.”
a. Jill Biden
b. Nancy Reagan
c. Michelle Obama
d. Barbara Bush
7. “Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.”
a. Jimmy Carter
b. Woodrow Wilson
c. John F. Kennedy
d. Calvin Coolidge
8. “The magic of America is that we’re a free and open society with a mixed population. Part of our security is our freedom.”
a. Madeleine Albright
b. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
c. Sonia Sotomayor
d. Condoleezza Rice
9. “True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom, and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth, universal brotherhood and goodwill, and a constant striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.”
a. Betty Ford
b. Eleanor Roosevelt
c. Hillary Rodham Clinton
d. Laura Bush
10. “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4th, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.”
a. Dave Barry
b. Dorothy Parker
c. Art Buchwald
d. Erma Bombeck
1. c, 2. d, 3. b, 4. c, 5. a, 6. c, 7. d, 8. a, 9. b, 10. D
Why Independence Day is celebrated on July 4
Though the Fourth of July is a beloved date for Americans, some people claim that it’s not the real date of our independence.
The first motion for independence in the Continental Congress was made on June 8. After lengthy debates, Congress voted secretly for independence on July 2, 1776.
The Congress reworked the Declaration of Independence until a little after 11 p.m. on July 4, when the colonies voted for its adoption and released an unsigned copy to the printers (New York abstained). Later, Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration of Independence with public readings and bonfires on July 8.
John Adams, the unofficial and tireless whip of the independence movement, wrote his wife Abigail on July 3: “The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations…”
The vote on July 2 was the decisive act, but July 4 is the date on the Declaration itself. Thomas Jefferson’s stirring prose, as edited by the Congress, was adopted by the vote on July 4. It was the day Philadelphians heard the official news of their independence from England.
The Declaration of Independence: What Does it Say?
On 2 July, at 11:30, the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution read the Declaration of Independence on the porch of the Archives at the Warren Heritage Society. The Chapter Color Guard also fired a three-volley musket salute to commemorate the signing of the document.
Participating Compatriots: Sean Carrigan, Paul Christensen, Dave Cook, Jim Cordes, Dale Corey, Chip Daniel, Jim Heflin, Marc Robinson, Bill Schwetke, Jime Simmons, Mike St Jacques, and Richard Tyler.
Visit the Warren Heritage Society at 101 Chester Street in Front Royal for more information on the Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence.
The National Archives provided us with the following:
The Declaration of Independence was designed for multiple audiences: the King, the colonists, and the world. It was also designed to multitask. Its goals were to rally the troops, win foreign allies, and to announce the creation of a new country. The introductory sentence states the Declaration’s main purpose, to explain the colonists’ right to revolution. In other words, “to declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Congress had to prove the legitimacy of its cause. It had just defied the most powerful nation on Earth. It needed to motivate foreign allies to join the fight.
These are the lines contemporary Americans know best: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.” These stirring words were designed to convince Americans to put their lives on the line for the cause. Separation from the mother country threatened their sense of security, economic stability, and identity. The preamble sought to inspire and unite them through the vision of a better life.
List of Grievances
The list of 27 complaints against King George III constitute the proof of the right to rebellion. Congress cast “the causes which impel them to separation” in universal terms for an international audience. Join our fight, reads the subtext, and you join humankind’s fight against tyranny.
Resolution of Independence
The most important and dramatic statement comes near the end: “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” It declares a complete break with Britain and its King and claims the powers of an independent country.
Note: The following text is a transcription of the Stone Engraving of the parchment Declaration of Independence (the document on display in the Rotunda at the National Archives Museum.) The spelling and punctuation reflects the original.
In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Georgia – Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
North Carolina – William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina – Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Massachusetts – John Hancock
Maryland – Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia – George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
Pennsylvania – Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware – Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
New York – William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey – Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
New Hampshire – Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple
Massachusetts – Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island – Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut – Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire – Matthew Thornton
Three tests for liberty
In the age of social media, it seems as though everyone sees a tyrant seated at the head of the other table.
But is there any test for tyranny?
On July 4, consider the test of Thomas Jefferson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In this famous sentence from the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson gives us three words that can test any philosophy:
- Self-evident: Jefferson said some ideas are obvious, so obvious that Americans don’t need a lawyer to explain or debate them. The first obvious truth he sets down is this: All men are created equal.
- Endowment: Jefferson says that God gives rights to man as a gift, an endowment. No human owns the rights of another and no human decides which people get to exercise those rights.
- Unalienable: These obvious rights, given as a permanent gift from God, cannot be taken away by any human, and neither can a person surrender the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The surprisingly messy history of flag cake
When you picture a Fourth of July cake, there’s only one that comes to mind for most people — a rectangular cake with white whipped cream icing, red stripes made of strawberries, and a field of blueberries in the upper left corner.
Both Ina Garten and Martha Stewart claim to have invented it, but the truth is that nobody knows for sure where the iconic American flag cake, beloved of so many backyard barbecues, really came from.
Patriotic cakes are nothing new in America. Even before the Revolutionary War, innkeepers and industrious housewives baked spicy, yeasty “election cakes” to feed farmers who came to town to train as soldiers or, later, to vote in America’s first elections. In the early 19th century, Americans snacked on cakes that paid tribute to George Washington and other beloved heroes, though cake-baking, on the whole, hadn’t evolved enough for the cakes to actually resemble the father of America.
By the early 20th century, Americans were in love with patriotically decorated petit fours, tinted with blue and red dye from indigo and dried beetles. Other cakes paid tribute to Washington and Lincoln on their birthdays. One 1940 recipe suggested a Fourth of July cake with pink frosting and patriotic “ornaments.”
The iconic flag cake seems like it’s been around forever, but really, it was likely invented in the 1950s as a marketing push for cake mixes. Other manufacturers and fruit companies jumped on board to add their own spins and advertise their particular products. The rest is history, and perhaps you were alive to experience it all.
By 2016, Betty Crocker alone had at least 14 different flag cake recipes available online. So this year, if you’re in charge of making your grandma’s classic flag cake, take a few extra minutes to appreciate how long and how far the patriotic cake traveled to get to where it is today.
A block party for the Fourth
Why not celebrate Independence Day in your own neighborhood by holding a Fourth of July block party? Here are a few fun, safe event ideas for folks of all ages.
• Mini parade. Host a kid-sized procession on your street with decorated bikes, skateboard floats, and roller skaters in costume. Amplify the holiday spirit with noisemakers and toy musical instruments. Make sure you get permission from your municipal authority to close the street to vehicular traffic.
• Homemade concert. Showcase the talent in your community with a lineup of karaoke divas, dad bands, closet stand-up comics, and sock puppet masters. Charge a modest admission fee and donate the proceeds to a local charity.
• Outdoor film screening. Choose family-friendly patriotic classics such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Yankee Doodle Dandy. If you’re looking for something more contemporary, try The Sand Lot.
• Pet-friendly light show. If town by-laws or your pets’ sensitive ears prohibit fireworks, use sparklers or glow sticks to light up the night. A hot dog eating contest around a backyard fire pit makes a fun after-dark spectacle.
Get creative, let loose, and have fun this Independence Day.