THE BIRTH OF AMERICA
"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." - Leviticus 25:10 (inscribed on The Liberty Bell)
People all over the United States celebrate our country's "birthday" each year on the Fourth of July. This national holiday is called Independence Day because it commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The declaration informed the world that the colonies, fighting against the tyranny of Great Britain, had officially proclaimed themselves to be "free and independent states."
At the time, America consisted of thirteen colonies under the rule of England's King George III. The colonists complained about the unfair taxes they had to pay to England. They considered it "taxation without representation," because the colonies had no representatives in the English Parliament and therefore they had no say in anything.
The famous Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773, and more tea was dumped into the harbor on March 7, 1774. Later that year, delegates from each of the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia and formed the First Continental Congress. Although the delegates were unhappy with England, they were not yet ready to declare war.
Meanwhile, King George sent over extra troops just in case there was a rebellion. In April of 1775, British troops advanced on Concord, Massachusetts. Riders galloping on horses though the late night streets shouted, " The British are coming! The British are coming!" The battle of Concord and its "shot heard 'round the world" marked the unofficial start of the Revolution.
In May of 1775, the colonies sent delegates to a Second Continental Congress. For about a year they tried to work out their differences with England, again without formally declaring war. However, by June of 1776 their efforts had become hopeless. A committee was then formed to compose an official Declaration of Independence and to draw up war plans. They appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence. After various changes, the Declaration was approved on July 2 and adopted on July 4, 1776. Of the thirteen colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration. Two of the colonies (Pennsylvania and South Carolina) voted against it. Delaware was undecided, and New York abstained. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration.
Copies of the Declaration were distributed the following day. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration on July 6, 1776. The Declaration's first public reading was on July 8 in Philadelphia's Independence Square, amid cheering crowds and ringing bells.
The first Fourth of July commemoration was held in 1777 while America's Revolutionary War was still being fought. By the early 1800's, the celebration of America's birthday with parades, picnics, patriotic speeches, band concerts, and fireworks had become established traditions. The Fourth of July is a unique patriotic holiday. We don't celebrate our nation's independence on the nearest convenient Monday. We use the actual historical anniversary - no matter what day of the week it falls on - because that's when our nation was born.
13 Strange But True Facts About The American Revolution
1. Benjamin Franklin, who was by then 70 years old, wrote the first Declaration of Independence, but most of the delegates in the Continental Congress didn't like it. They voted for Thomas Jefferson's version instead. Then Franklin advised the colonial army that they should use bows and arrows rather than muskets, but no one took his idea seriously. Later, Franklin was again disappointed when the eagle was chosen as the national bird, because he thought the turkey was a better choice!
2. The first submarine attack in history took place in New York Harbor on September 6, 1776. David Bushnell of Connecticut invented a submarine and called it the Turtle, because it resembled two large tortoise shells joined together. The watertight barrel was made of 6-inch-thick oak timbers coated with tar. It moved when a propeller was turned by hand. The Turtle targeted the HMS Eagle, flagship of the British fleet, with the intent of attaching a cask of gunpowder to the hull of the Eagle and exploding it. However, since there was only enough air for thirty minutes underwater, the Turtle lost precious time when it got entangled with the Eagle's rudder and the mission had to be aborted.
3. Benedict Arnold was one of the best generals in the Continental Army. During the first three years of the war, Arnold's fleet brought the British fleet to a standstill on Lake Champlain, he forced the British army to surrender at Saratoga in 1777, and he came close to conquering Canada. In spite of his success, Arnold wasn’t well respected and he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress while other officers took credit for his accomplishments. Arnold switched sides in 1780 after having been involved in several bad business deals and facing financial ruin. His wife liked to live lavishly and thought that he would be better off working for the British.
4. George Washington ran a spy headquarters. The man who supposedly would not tell a lie was a genius at misinformation. He had dozens of espionage rings in British-held New York and Philadelphia, which constantly befuddled the British by leaking, through double agents, inflated reports on the strength of his army.
5. There were more Americans fighting with the British than with Washington. There were at least 21 regiments of Loyalists in the British army, estimated to total 6,500-8,000 men. General Washington had a field army of only 3,468.
6. On July 9, 1776, Patriots in New York City pulled down a lead statue of King George on his horse. They carted most of it to the village of Litchfield, Connecticut, where it was melted down and molded into more than 40,000 bullets for American muskets.
7. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made a hero of Paul Revere in his poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," yet Revere never got to finish his famous ride. He was captured by British officers between Lexington and Concord. A man named Doctor Prescott who had been riding with Revere was the one who warned the Concord minutemen to prepare for a British attack.
8. Some Revolutionary War battles were fought overseas. Instead of waiting in American waters for British warships to appear, John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy sailed across the Atlantic to attack British ships in their own territory. Jones captured the first British ship ever to be taken by an American man-of-war, along with seventeen merchant ships and more than 500 prisoners. In 1779, off the coast of England, Jones fought his most famous battle. While Jones' ship was badly damaged and sinking, Jones fought his way aboard the British ship and took it over.
9. When the Declaration of Independence was distributed throughout the colonies, it would be read aloud on village greens and on the steps of churches. In a small town in South Carolina, the only person who knew how to read was a nine-year-old boy. He stood up in front of everyone and read the entire Declaration in a loud, clear voice. This boy's name was Andrew Jackson, and many years later he would become the seventh President of the United States.
10. "Yankee Doodle" was originally a British song making fun of the colonists because they were not good soldiers. To be called a Yankee was considered an insult, and Doodle was a slang term for "fool." At that time, "macaroni" was considered stylish and it referred to the fancy trim on soldiers' uniforms. Even though the song was intended to ridicule the Americans, they liked the song so much that they sang it themselves!
11. The British soldiers' wool coats were dyed with carmine, a red coloring made from the pulverized bodies of cochineal scale insects that live on prickly pear cacti. This dye had originally been used by the Aztecs and Mayas in Mexico, Central and South America. The Spaniards who discovered the New World monopolized the cochineal market. The striking red color was the envy of England and Colonial America. In the 1700's, an English dyehouse obtained a contract to dye the Buckingham Palace Guards' coats with carmine. Today, carmine is used as a coloring in cosmetics and textiles as well as yogurts, fruit drinks and other foods.
12. Paul Revere wasn't the only one to take a Midnight Ride. In 1777, a 16-year-old girl named Sybil Ludington covered 40 miles in the pitch dark, from New York to Connecticut, to warn local militias that the British were coming.
13. Immediately following the Revolutionary War, patriotism was so popular that some people even gave their children patriotic names such as Independence, Liberty, and America.
Did You Know...? Only two people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Most of the rest signed on August 2, but the last signature wasn't added until 5 years later.
American History Quiz
Find out how patriotic you are by answering these thirteen questions:
1. Despite saying that he had "no wish but that of living and dying an honest man on my own farm," which man became the first President of the United States?
2. Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?
3. Who wrote this statement: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal"? A. Benjamin Franklin; B. George Washington; C. Thomas Jefferson; D. Thomas Paine
4. Who said "I have not yet begun to fight!"? A. John Paul Jones; B. George Washington; C. Paul Revere; D. Patrick Henry
5. The first national capitol was located in what city? A. Philadelphia; B. Washington; C. New York; D. Boston
6. The British and Americans signed a peace treaty at Paris, France, on September 3, 1783. True or false?
7. How did the Liberty Bell get its crack? A. British troops vandalized it; B. It was struck by lighting; C. Someone dropped it; D. It cracked as it was being rung
8. Who wrote the Star Spangled Banner? A. Betsy Ross; B. Francis Scott Key; C. Patrick Henry
9. Who said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country"? A. Nathan Hale; B. Patrick Henry; C. Thomas Paine; D. John Paul Jones
10. Who said "Give me liberty or give me death"? A. Paul Revere; B. Patrick Henry; C. John Hancock; D. George Washington
11. The British surrendered on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia. True or false?
12. The Fourth of July commemorates what event? A. The end of the war; B. the firing of the first shot; C. the adoption of the Declaration of Independence; D. the signing of the Treaty of Paris
13. Can you name all of the original thirteen colonies?
ANSWERS: 1 = George Washington; 2 = John Hancock; 3 = C; 4 = A; 5 = C; 6 = True; 7 = D; 8 = B; 9 = A; 10 = B; 11 = True; 12 = C; 13 = Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.
(If you answered all 13 questions correctly, you are a true patriot! If you answered 10-12 questions correctly, your forefathers would be proud. If you answered 6-9 questions correctly, you may want to take a refresher course in American History. If you answered 1-5 questions correctly, you probably slept through your American History class. If you answered 0 questions correctly, you must be from another country!)
AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 1700-1800 (CHRONICLE OF AMERICA SERIES), by Joy Masoff.
GIVE ME LIBERTY! THE STORY OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, by Russell Freedman.
IF YOU LIVED AT THE TIME OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, by Kay Moore.
JOHNNY TREMAIN, by Esther Forbes.
LIBERTY! THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, by Thomas Fleming.
SAM THE MINUTEMAN, by Sam Benchley.
THE LIBERTY TREE, by Lucille Recht Penner
WILL YOU SIGN HERE, JOHN HANCOCK? By Jean Fritz.
WINTER OF THE RED SNOW: THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR DIARY OF ABIGAIL JANE STEWART, by Kristiana Gregory.
A YOUNG PATRIOT: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS EXPERIENCED BY ONE BOY, by Jim Murphy.
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