The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, and Events and Pageantry and Celebrations and “Illuminations”

 

Visitor to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., views the Declaration of Independence (image credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

(Note: This post, originally published on July 2, 2018, was updated on July 6, 2018)

“We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.”

PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN, speaking on December 15, 1952, at the National Archives, where is housed the original copy of the Declaration of Independence

Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services is a national leader in exhibition services and event project management.

Established in 1987, we are now in our fourth decade in business.

And for more than 30 years, it has been our good fortune to operate in a free society, one in which capitalism is vibrant, and which is hospitable to and supports and rewards hard work, daring, personal initiative, and creative thinking that builds and produces more effectively and more efficiently, and in higher quality and higher quantity, than any other nation on the planet.

Of course, freedom and liberty – the natural state of humanity – has enemies, and is often attacked, infringed on, subjugated, and destroyed.

2012 Macy’s July 4th Fireworks over Manhattan, New York City (Image credit: New York Daily News)

Preserving and protecting, and winning back, freedom and liberty, has often required great sacrifice, mountainous loss of life and suffering, bold and epic leadership, and indomitable will and perseverance.

Such qualities, such character, were firmly resident in the 56 men, delegates from the 13 American colonies and members of the Second Continental Congress, who signed “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” – the title of which has been transmitted to posterity as the “Declaration of Independence” – a sacred text approved on and dated July 4, 1776.

On this blog, Willwork, from time to time, likes to tie the business in which we work – shows, events, celebrations, and conventions – to holidays and current events, great episodes in history, and admirable and virtuous people and their accomplishments and contributions to society.

Now, for sure, what took place in Philadelphia in the early summer of 1776 is the among the most momentous of events in history – and one that has, from its inception … as it always will … inspired and launched and fueled the grandest and most colorful celebrations of light and sound.

Countdown to July 4th, Independence Day

While the American Revolution was already underway, and with its armed conflict between the American colonies and England launched on the morning of April 19, 1775 in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord, the Declaration of Independence took things to a new level.

No longer did the rebellion of English citizens in America include the possibility that the colonies would remain part of the British Empire if King George III and Parliament assented to cease imposing unjust laws and regulations, including onerous taxation, on Americans.

No, that ship had sailed.  Now the fight was about establishing a new nation.

Declaring independence meant there could be turning back, and not acceptable to Congress would be any solution to the crisis that included the colonies still under English rule.

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, anticipating that soon it would be ready and have the consensus of support to win a vote to declare separation from England, named a Committee of Five to draft a document would be sent to King George and Parliament, and which would be made universally available, that declared independence and described and explained the reasons for the declaration.

Members of the Committee were Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts,Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert R. Livingston (New York), and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.  Thomas Jefferson, 33 years old, was appointed the lead in writing the document.

The Committee of Five, on June 28, presented a draft of the declaration to Congress.

On July 2, 1776, delegates from 12 of 13 colonies – New York abstained – voted to approve a resolution put forth by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia to declare the colonies independent from Great Britain.  (New York voted, on July 19, to join in supporting the Declaration of Independence, and therefore, also, the resolution of July 2).

It is understood how John Adams believed, as he exulted in a letter to his wife, dated July 2, 1776, that the day of year would be commemorated in perpetuity in the following manner:

“… 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 illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

After the passage of the Lee Resolution, Congress devoted two days of debate and discussion about, and proposing and making changes to, the treatise. Yet, for sure, the final text largely remains the result of what was transmitted by the extraordinary mind and pen of Thomas Jefferson.

On July 4,1776, the Continental Congress approved the declaration, even if it would be not until early August that most of the delegates signed the document.  (Jefferson actually made some minor changes to the declaration on   July 5.)

And what a declaration … and what a document.

With the rarest of literary precision, and with timeless beauty, poetry, and eloquence, the Declaration of Independence made the case for, and advanced the argument that, England had deprived the residents of its American colonies of the natural rights to which all people are heir at the moment of their birth (even as it would be a long while in the nation before non-whites and women were permitted to fully enjoy and experience those rights).

The entire Declaration of Independence is a gorgeous piece of writing and argumentation – and unto itself, the preamble, which we share here, is enshrined in our national consciousness and an inspiration for freedom-loving and freedom-yearning people the world over:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Celebrating and Announcing Independence; The Fireworks and Parades Commence

A nation had been born.  And either England would consent to the American independence, and not oppose it – or England would continue to contest, by arms, the colonies breaking away from the Crown, and crush the insurgency.  Or the colonies would win what the Declaration of Independence proclaimed.

And the news spread of what happened in Philadelphia – and launched were the first July 4th celebrations.  Below is an excerpt from a study, The Declaration of Independence: First Public Readings, researched by James R. Heintze, a professor at American University:

“The Declaration of Independence was printed during the late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, by John Dunlap, a local Philadelphia printer.  Congress ordered that copies be sent to ‘the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding officers of the Continental Troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army.’  By the next morning copies were on their way to all thirteen states by horseback and on July 5 the German Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, published by Heinrich Miller, became the new nation’s first newspaper to announce that the Declaration had been adopted.  On Saturday, July 6, the first newspaper print edition of the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Post.  On Monday, July 8, the Declaration of Independence was ‘proclaimed’ (read aloud) by Col. John Nixon of the Philadelphia Committee of Safety at the State House in Philadelphia.  It was also read again that evening before the militia on the Commons.  Throughout the city, bells were rung all day.  On that as well the Declaration was publicly read in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Trenton, New Jersey.  It was these first public readings which constituted America’s first celebrations of the Fourth of July.  Typically in towns and cities across the nation accompanying the oral declarations were loud shouts, huzzas, firings of muskets, and the tearing down of the British emblems.  In Baltimore, for example, on July 29, the town was illuminated and ‘the Effigy of our late King was carted through the town and committed to the flames amidst the acclamations of many hundreds.  The just reward of a Tyrant.’”

Still, while the creation and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence were necessary to founding the United States of America, independence would not be won without continued and immense sacrifice of blood and treasure.

It was not until October 19, 1781 – more than five years after Philadelphia and July 4, 1776 – thatBritish General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his troops to an American and French force at Yorktown, Virginia, which resulted in the cessation of almost all fighting … and America gaining its independence … even if small clashes continued for two more years.

The American Revolution formally ended in Paris on September 3, 1783, with American and British representatives approving the Treaty of Paris.

But there could be no doubt that what happened on July 4, 1776 announced to Britain … and to the world … that this upstart assembly of colonies were prepared to give all to be free.  Indeed, all those men who signed the Declaration of Independence, in that they were considered by England to be subjects of the Crown, were deemed by the Mother Country to be committing treason, a crime punishable by death.

Benjamin Franklin understood the risk and peril. A letter he wrote which he sent to his colleagues in the Second Continental Congress just prior to the vote on the declaration, included these words: “We must, indeed, all hang together – or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

A big deal.  A very big deal.

And John Adams was right.  America declaring its independence will be “solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

As for those fireworks, if you click here you will be taken to a Travel + Leisure story, “The Best Fourth of July Fireworks in Every U.S. State,” written by Emily Cappiello, and published on June 30, 2017.

There can be no July 4th without fireworks – without “illuminations.”

May there always be July 4th and the fireworks – from sea to sea.

Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services shouts out a “Happy Birthday America!!”

 

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