Fourth of July: The people’s holiday
“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... . ” — From the First Amendment to Constitution
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress met in the beautiful Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. On the agenda was the Lee Resolution put forward by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and seconded by none other than John Adams.
The resolution declared 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 political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved.”
The resolution was voted on and approved. The United States, as it would come to be called, was born.
Famously, Adams recorded the occasion in a letter to his wife, Abigail. Adams wrote that “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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
After the vote, Adams, Jefferson, and Ben Franklin formed a committee to draft the new nation’s formal Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration was changed many times, but it was finally approved by on July 4, 1776, with Jefferson getting credit as its author. He carried that honor to the grave where he had it carved into his headstone at his home, Monticello. The Revolution wasn’t over for at least another seven years until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.
The next step was to setup a government for all 13 states to ratify. The Articles of Confederation were used until they proved too weak and difficult to enforce since the federal government then had very little power.
So, James Madison, Gouvernor Morris, and others drafted the present Constitution in 1787 but it took a while for nine of the 13 states to ratify it. It was all done by 1789.
The Constitution written so long ago has endured because like the nation itself. The Constitution has evolved with the times.
It has 27 Amendments to date.
From that first July 4 to this one, the United States has seen centuries of victories and failures but it has always come back stronger than it was before.
However, we must remember that our ancestors didn’t just declare their independence from the king of Great Britain. In their minds, George III was a tyrant who unfairly imposed his will upon them. Since then, the United States has been the enemy of tyrants and would-be dictators around the globe.
We the people must remember to oppose those who would divide us through fear, violate our Constitution, and undermine our democracy by attacking our freedoms and those “huddled masses” seeking a new life here.
Also, remember the immigrants, who like Alexander Hamilton and countless others, have helped weave the fabric of our Nation from the very beginning. In 1883, a poet named Emma Lazarus said it best with her poem, “The New Colossus,” on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
— Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” 1883