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Fun facts for the Fourth

By JANET HANKS, Featured Weekly Columnist

Today is the Fourth of July, the day  Americans traditionally celebrate our national independence from Great  Britain.  This is an interesting choice of day, because not much  of a patriotic nature happened on it.  In an attempt to shine a  ray of light–or perhaps a barrage of ballistics–on it, the Research  Department worked overtime, which made it rather grouchy and late to  the fireworks.


It discovered the following facts:  The Revolutionary  War “unofficially” began on April 19th, 1775, when shots  were fired in Lexington and Concord.  The Declaration of Independence  was signed (mostly) on July 2, which prompted John Adams to say that  Americans would be celebrating the second day of July into all perpetuity.   The war was over, except for the shouting, after George Washington’s  army whacked that of Cornwallis in Yorktown in October of 1781. The  colonies actually became independent, un-confederated states on September  3, 1783 with the signing of the  Treaty of Paris.  Confused  yet?


Wait until you try to figure out what happened on  July 4, 1776.


It’s not easy to sort through.  On July second,  in a sweltering room in Philadelphia, representatives to the Continental  Congress voted to publicly declare what was already true in practice:   The days of being a convenient source of revenue for Britain were over,  and now everybody needed to grab a musket, not just New England.   Remember, though, that fighting had been going on for over a year.


John Adams and a committee had written a draft Declaration  in May 1776, incorporating some of the many local and colony-level resolutions  that had already been passed.  This committee version stank, as  committee-written literature usually does.  Rumor has it that John  Adams and some other guys locked Jefferson in a bedroom until he cranked  out a readable version, which is the Declaration we (don’t) know and  love.


The Declaration of Independence in its final form  wasn’t read in public until July 8th, and it wasn’t “officially”  signed and sent away until August 2rd.


We all know the beginning bits:  Jefferson said  that when one group of people wants to sever its civil ties to another,  it had better state the reasons for so doing.  He went on to plagiarize  John Locke in a mighty way, saying that everybody knows that God gives  all white, property-owning males the right to life, liberty, and the  pursuit of happiness (Locke had said “property,” which goes to show  either how idealistic Jefferson was, or how much we equated the two  even then).


Most Americans think the Declaration stops after the  inalienable rights, but it goes on for quite a long time afterward.   Among other things, it lists twenty-six crimes of King George that make  him a.) a tyrant and b.) unfit to govern a free people.


In addition to the things you would expect–taxation,  quartering troops in private homes, dismissing legislatures–Jefferson  says the king has perverted justice, practiced nepotism, committed theft,  and finally, murdered people and pillaged the coasts.


The Declaration of Independence could describe a pirate  if you took the “king” word out.  Of course, it could also  describe  a common bandit, highway robber, or the Federal Government  for the past thirty years, particularly in the taxation and standing-army  areas.


So why, we reiterate, do we celebrate Independence  Day when we do?  Because the Continental Congress approved Jefferson’s  revisions on July 4, so the Declaration bears that date.


That’s it. It’s a revision date. Everybody said, “Oh,  hey, this IS better,” and went to lunch, nervously, because the British  really were coming.  America did not pay much attention to the  Fourth of July until some people in Freeport, Maine, threw a patriotic  party in 1820, and the traditions mushroomed from there.


Now, as the ancient and irascible Paul Harvey used  to say, you know the rest of the story.  The Research Department  suggests that you go out and set off some fireworks anyway.



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