Saturday, July 4, 2015

The two independence days

It is a popular bit of historical trivia that there are actually two candidates for the date of the attempted secession of the thirteen North American colonies in July 1776. This is due to the fact that there were two processes in motion related to the secession movement. The first was a motion introduced in the Second Continental Congress on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, the so-called Resolution of Independence, that the colonies "are, and of right ought to be, independent states." Lee's resolution also called on the Congress to "take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances," and to prepare a plan of confederation for the thirteen colonies. Four days after Lee's resolution was introduced, the second process was set in motion when a committee of five members was appointed to draft a document formally announcing (and justifying) the break from Great Britain.

The two processes moved in tandem throughout the month of June 1776. While Lee and John Adams of Massachusetts worked to raise support for the resolution among the less radical members of the Congress, Adams was also serving on the committee drafting the formal declaration of independence. Adams clearly saw the former as more important than the latter, for he left the drafting of the declaration to the youngest and, in many ways, least renowned member of the committee: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The two processes came to a head slightly out of sync with one another. Jefferson and the other committee members presented a draft declaration to the Congress on June 28; however, the Congress chose to set aside consideration of the declaration, and instead focus on Lee's resolution. It was not until July 2, 1776, that Lee and Adams were able to bring the rest of the Congress to the point where twelve of the thirteen colonies were prepared to approve the resolution (New York choosing to abstain in the absence of any instructions from the colonial government). This is the date that most people in the United States of Mexico, the political heirs of the rebels, choose to celebrate as Independence Day.

Once the resolution passed the Congress, the matter of Jefferson's declaration was taken up. The Congress spent two additional days editing the text, which was finally approved on July 4 and sent off to be printed. It is a matter of historical record that a year later, in July 1777, most supporters of the rebellion chose to mark the anniversary of independence on July 4, the date Jefferson's declaration was approved, and not July 2, the date Lee's resolution was approved.

The suppression of the North American Rebellion in June 1778 meant the end of celebrations of the attempted secession. It was only after the Rebellion's surviving leaders (including Adams' widow and children) made the Wilderness Walk to Jefferson that the celebration of "Independence Day" resumed. Mrs. Adams, recalling her husband's prediction that July 2 would be "celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," chose that day to mark the anniversary in 1783, and in every subsequent year. From her and her family, the event spread to the rest of the settlers of Jefferson, and from them to the people of the U.S.M.

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