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10 Myths for the Fourth of July

fourth

For Journal of the American RevolutionRay Raphael brings us this list, read the whole thing here.

1. On July 4, 1776, the United States declared itself an independent nation.

This is almost true, but the timing is a tad off. According to the historical record, we should be celebrating Independence Day on July 2, the day Congress finally approved the motion made by Richard Henry Lee on June 7: “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.”[i]

The following day, July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.[ii]

Adams certainly got the spirit right, even if the date he proffered turned out to be wrong. How was he to know that even the most patriotic Americans would fail to recognize the true anniversary of independence? On July 4, the second day after it declared the United States to be an independent nation, Congress approved a document that explained its reasons. As so often happens in history, representation of the event would have more staying power than the event itself.

2. Congress initiated the move toward independence.

Historian Pauline Maier has uncovered 90 sets of instructions by state and local bodies, each telling its representatives in higher mythsbodies (ultimately, the Continental Congress) to declare independence. Several of these documents, written in the three months preceding Congress’s vote for independence, listed the same complaints and expressed the same principles that the Congressional Declaration of Independence eventually did.[iii]

[Check out Ray Raphael‘s book Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past at Amazon.com]

Earlier yet, on October 4, 1774, the town of Worcester instructed its delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress “to exert yourself in devising ways and means to raise from the dissolution of the old constitution, as from the ashes of the Phenix, a new form, wherein all officers shall be dependent on the suffrages of the people, whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure.”[iv] This was indeed a declaration for independence. The new government would be formed without seeking the consent of existing British authorities, and since it would be based exclusively on the “suffrages of the people,” there could be no place for monarchical prerogatives, as there had been under British rule.

In 1774 the Continental Congress was not yet ready for such rash actions. Feverishly, the Massachusetts delegates in Philadelphia cautioned their constituents back home. “Absolute Independency … Startle[s] People here,” John Adams wrote to a friend. His colleagues in the Continental Congress, he said, were horrified by “the Proposal of Setting up a new Form of Government of our own.”[v] Samuel Adams, also a delegate to the Continental Congress, likewise warned the people of Massachusetts not to “set up another form of government” for fear of jeopardizing support from other colonies.[vi] Those congressional leaders, who allegedly drove the agenda, said that “Independency” should not come too soon. In fact, it would be 21 months before Congress caught up with the people of Worcester.

3. The Signing.

Those fifty-six valiant patriots whom future generations would celebrate as “The Signers” did not step forth, with great solemnity, and affix their signatures to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. In fact, fourteen of these celebrated heroes were not even present that day, including eight who were not yet members of Congress.[vii]

The alleged signing of the Declaration of Independence is a conscious fabrication of the Continental Congress. On July 4, twelve states (not thirteen) approved a declaration that explained Congress’s vote for independence two days earlier. That document was signed by only two men, President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson, as was the custom for congressional resolutions. Two weeks later, on July 19, New York cast the thirteenth vote for independence and Congress ordered that a fancy, “engrossed” copy be “signed by every member.”[viii] On August 2, Timothy Matlack presented this engrossed copy to Congress. Members who happened to be present that day signed it, even if they had not been party to the original act. Other delegates added their signatures as they arrived for work on succeeding days, and one, Thomas McKean of Delaware, did not do so until the following year.[ix]

In the spring of 1777, the committee that printed the official Congressional Journal inserted the later copy under its entry for July 4. The deceit is easy to detect. The engrossed copy – the nicely penned version we see and celebrate so often – is titled, “Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States,” even though the Congressional Journal reveals that only twelve states voted for independence on July 2 and approved the Declaration of July 4. Our nation, as one of its first official acts, pulled off a photo op, 18th Century style. To this day, even most textbooks mistake the embellished Declaration, signatures and all, for the real deal.[x]…(read more) 

Journal of the American Revolution

 

Ray Raphael

Ray-Raphael_avatar-96x96The tenth anniversary revised edition of Ray Raphael’s influential book, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past has just been released by New Press. His sixteen other books include Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and What We Get Right (New Press, 2013), Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (Knopf, 2012), and A People’s History of the American Revolution (Harper Perennial, 2002). A complete list of his books and articles, as well as some key historical documents not published elsewhere, can be found at www.rayraphael.com.

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3 Comments on “10 Myths for the Fourth of July”


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