Have you ever asked yourself: I wonder why America declared independence from Great Britain? No? Well then that makes most of you. As a person who studies Constitutional History, the American Colonial period, and the American Revolution for fun (PAAARRRTTTTYYYYY!), I find myself filled with useless information none of you actually care about. But on the off chance that someone actually cares about American Independence and what July 4th really is all about, I have created this primer on facts related to the revolutionary period. If you have any questions about things I didn't go over, you can ask. I'll be hanging around all day.
*Note: Yes, I know I'm a day early, but I'm celebrating freedom tomorrow so I can't post this tomorrow.
*Obligatory freedom picture
A quick rundown of historical facts and misconceptions surrounding American Independence Day
Americans hate taxes. After a costly war (the French and Indian War), the British found themselves in great debt. George III and British Parliament, despite the protestations of one of George's chief advisers, decided that the colonists in America weren't pulling their weight economically. Imposing the first direct taxes on American colonists (the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts) in colonial history (no, the Sugar Act and Currency Act do not count), George III and Parliament unwittingly sowed the seeds of Revolution.
The Boston Massacre would not have happened if not for a misinformed troll. Edward Garrick, misinformed troll, insulted a British officer and a younger Private in the British army took umbrage with the insult. Challenging Garrick after a brief exchange, the Private hit Garrick with his musket. Eventually crowds formed on King Street, and one of the most famous incidents in early American history occurred. In all, 5 were killed that night.
While famous, the Boston Massacre is not what most American history books claim it to be. Many of the history textbooks I've used claim that the massacre was the spark that put us on the path to revolution. And while this is not entirely wrong, it is not entirely true either. The revolution was sparked to a greater extent by taxes, confiscation of smuggled goods, and the Boston Tea Party.
Rhode Island loves to burn things. My home state is infamous for two REALLY famous examples of burning things. In 1769, Rhode Island colonists who were a bit irked by the enforcement of trade regulation in New England decided to burn the Liberty, a ship confiscated from the rather notable John Hancock. Yet, this is nothing compared to the much more notable Gaspee affair. In 1772, the HMS Gaspee, a customs schooner, was grounded in Warwick, RI. Several revolutionaries in Rhode Island boarded the Gaspee, shot the Lieutenant who was sailing the ship, and then set the ship ablaze. The attack is largely considered to be one of the bigger sparks in revolutionary history as it was quickly immortalized and propagandized by John Allen in Boston. Rhode Islanders still celebrate the burning of the Gaspee by having a parade and festival (I've marched in it twice). So yeah, Rhode Island is really into burning stuff.
The Boston Tea Party was not about taxes on tea, but about being taxed without having a say in regards to the matter. All Americans know the phrase, "No taxation without representation." and that is basically what this boiled down to. Another interesting tidbit: Not all of the tea partiers were wearing Native American garb. The myth, caricatured by Nathaniel Currier in his 1846 lithograph, is that most of the tea partiers dressed up as Native Americans to protect their identities. However, not all of them did. In fact, even though we do not know the exact count, it is more likely that you would have seen traditional colonial attire aboard the three tea toting vessels than Native American costume.
FUN FACT: Americans aren't big tea drinkers, and the Boston Tea Party is the reason why. Americans believed drinking tea was unpatriotic so tea consumption declined post-revolution.
The Declaration of Independence began as a resolution tabled by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on June 7, 1776. Lee's resolution was a direct result of the Adams' Preamble written in May of the same year. After much debate over the initial draft, a final document was ready on July 2nd,1776. John Adams believed that July 2nd would be celebrated as a great American holiday, yet it is the day that it was ratified, July 4th, 1776 that has become the most famous American holiday.
Many Americans like to sound smart and claim that July 4th shouldn't be Independence Day, but rather August 2nd. This is wrong. The official copy of the Declaration was printed on July 4th, 1776 under the supervision of Thomas Jefferson. The copy signed by Congress was the engrossed copy. The engrossed copy, signed on August 2nd and on several other occasions after, is but one of several official copies. While the engrossed copy remains in distribution to this day, the official copy of the Declaration, surviving by the remaining Dunlap broadsides, was the copy that was ratified which all but made it law.
Independence Day is supposed to be a bacchanal affair. Err, well sort of. While Adams probably would have stopped short of Dionysian romps, he certainly wanted us to celebrate Independence Day. In a letter to his wife, Adams states, "It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other...". So even though most people you see celebrating tomorrow probably won't know all of these things, rest assured they are celebrating the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers properly.