10 Myths for the Fourth of July

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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. Read the rest of this entry »