Today, we celebrate the independence of the American colonies from the British crown…again.
The Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4th as most people believe. The Continental Congress adopted the declaration on July 4th, but signed the document a month later on August 2nd, 246 years ago today.
Here are some other interesting but lesser-known facts about the American Revolution and our “Summer of Independence”:
-Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence is the word “independence” mentioned. The document was initially titled “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America”. The “Declaration of Independence” is a colloquial term that appeared much later on.
–Independence Day hasn’t always been a holiday. Independence Day celebrations didn’t become commonplace until after the War of 1812 and didn’t become a national holiday until 1870, almost a century after the events that inspired it. Early celebrations burned an effigy of King George III as a symbol of victory from tyranny.
-On July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after adopting the Declaration of Independence, two former U.S. Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died within 5 hours of each other. Both men had advocated for August 2nd to be recognized as America’s Independence Day.
-The American Revolution did not begin with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It began a year earlier when the colonists learned British troops were planning to seize an arms cache in Concord, Massachusetts, near Boston. Paul Revere and other riders sounded the alarm, and the colonial militia quickly assembled to meet the redcoats.
-The deciding issue in declaring independence and taking up arms was not British occupation, but “taxation without representation.” The American colonies had no representation in England’s Parliament which taxed them aggressively. The Boston Tea Party was an early rebellion (1773) whose success gave other colonists the courage to challenge the crown.
-There were many colonists who remained loyal to England, and fought as British soldiers, making up about a third of the British army. The War of Independence pitted brother against brother, and neighbor against neighbor. Only about 45 percent of colonists initially supported the war, with many changing sides back and forth as the fortunes of the warring factions rose or fell.
-There was a secret plan to assassinate George Washington shortly before the Declaration of Independence was signed, led by Washington’s personal bodyguard Thomas Hickey, along with the Governor of New York, and the Mayor of New York City. Those loyal to the future President who uncovered the plot went on to lay the groundwork for the modern-day CIA.
-During the revolution, more troops died from disease than in battle. Of the 25,000 Americans who died during the war, 8,000 died in battle and 17,000 died from sickness, primarily smallpox. To stem the spread of smallpox, and preserve his remaining soldiers, George Washington required the inoculation of the entire Continental Army. This decision alone may have impacted the outcome of the war more than any other.
-The American Revolution was an international conflict. It’s fairly well-known that the French supported Colonial America by providing the patriots with cash, weapons, ammunition, and troops. What is less known is that Spain, a prominent French ally, and the Netherlands, an important trading partner, also aided the American Colonies in similar ways. On the other side, Germany sent over 30,000 Hessian mercenaries to fight for Great Britain.
-At the onset of the war, the British flooded the colonies with counterfeit money in an attempt to destroy the American economy and weaken foreign confidence in American currency, thereby impacting trade with foreign countries for weapons.
– The British loyalist governor of Virginia, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation in November 1775 that offered freedom to any slave willing to fight for the British against the revolutionaries. Thousands of slaves seized the opportunity to escape and fled to the British side.
-At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, thousands of British loyalists left the colonies along with 14,000 freed slaves. Some settled in Nova Scotia, others in the Caribbean, but most traveled to Britain, where they found that the wartime promises made to them would not be kept.
-And lastly, but of great significance, shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 23, 1783, in the Maryland State House in Annapolis, George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. He stated that he had done his duty and finished his assignment, returning the power to the people to whom it belonged.
Washington’s action was significant for establishing civilian authority over the military, a hitherto unheard of relinquishment of power, but a fundamental principle of the new American democracy which Washington declared in order to avoid tyranny, must be founded under more noble and altruistic principles.
Happy Independence Day once more. Thanks for reading,
Marc K. Ensign