The Signing: This Day in History: July 4
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six brave, freedom-loving men risked their lives and committed treason.
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six brave, freedom-loving men signed a letter that would alter the course of history.
On July 4, 1776, fifty-six brave, freedom-loving men formed America — and countless more have died, toiled away, and risked all to preserve her.
How do we celebrate this day? Noah Webster’s “An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” — written in 1802 — puts it perfectly. While we recommend reading the entire essay here, we love these final paragraphs in particular:
Let the youth of our country, who were not spectators of the distresses of the war; but who have entered upon the stage of life in time to see the silver locks of the revolutionary patriots, and to witness the scars and the poverty of the war-worn soldier . . . let these ponder the history and listen to the tale of their fathers’ sufferings, and their country’s danger. Let them read the animated and energetic addresses of the first American Congress, whose firmness and eloquence would have honored a Roman Senate . . . Let them early imbibe the manly and dignified sentiments of that illustrious council which pointed out the road to independence . . . Let them catch a portion of the patriotic flame . . . and by learning to revere the sentiments, may they be led to follow the example, of those venerable sages . . . Let them review, in imagination, the heroic achievements of the American troops . . . Let them see, at Bunker’s hill, a few hardy farmers, twice repulsing the numerous, well-marshalled columns of the foe, and holding the issue of the contest in suspense . . . Let them transport their imaginations to the hills of Bennington, the fields of Saratoga, the almost inaccessible cliffs of Stony Point, and the plains of Yorktown where the armies of America closed their triumphs; there let them admire the heroism of the citizen soldier, and catch the spirit of victory. Then let them cast their eyes upon a shattered army, retreating before a triumphant foe . . . See the magnanimous WASHINGTON, almost deserted and driven to despair, rallying a small band of half-clothed, dispirited troops, whose naked feet, lacerated with the frost bound clods, stained the road with blood, as they marched to the victories of Trenton and Princeton! Let scenes like these lead them to compassionate the distresses of a half-famished soldiery, who suffered and bled to defend the blessings which we now enjoy, and whose services are yet unrewarded. And when our youth see a needy soldier, grown old in poverty, or the widows and orphans of soldiers, doomed to want by the loss of their protectors, and the depreciation of government paper, let them open the liberal hand of bounty, and by relieving their wants, still divide with them the burthens and the distresses of the revolution. Let them consider that upon them has devolved the task of defending and improving the rich inheritance, purchased by their fathers. Nor let them view this inheritance of National Freedom and Independence, as a fortune that is to be squandered away, in ease and riot, but as an estate to be preserved only by industry, toil and vigilance. Let them cast their eyes around upon the aged fathers of the land, whose declining strength calls for their support, and whose venerable years and wisdom demand their deference and respect. Let them view the fair daughters of America, whose blushing cheeks and modest deportment invite their friendship and protection; whose virtues they are to cherish and reward by their love and fidelity; and whose honor and happiness it is their duty to maintain inviolable. Let them learn to merit the esteem and affections of females of worth, whose rank in life depends much on the reputation of their husbands, and who therefore never fail to respect men of character, as much as they despise those who waste their lives in idleness, gaming and frivolous pursuits.
And let us pay the tribute of respect to the memory of the illustrious hero who led our armies in the field of victory, and the statesman who first presided over our national councils. Let us review the history of his life, to know his worth and learn to value his example and his services. Let us, with a solemn pleasure, visit his tomb; there to drop a tear of affection, and heave a fervent sigh, over departed greatness. . . . There let us pluck a sprig of the willow and the laurel that shade the ashes of a WASHINGTON, and bear it on our bosoms, to remind us of his amiable virtues, his distinguished achievements, and our irreparable loss! Then let us resume our stations in life, and animated by his illustrious example, cheerfully attend to the duties assigned us, of improving the advantages, secured to us by the toils of the revolution, and the acquisition of independence.
Happy Fourth of July, Americans — young and old, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. Happy birthday, America.
Also on this day in history:
In perhaps one of the greatest examples of historical irony, exactly 50 remarkable years later on July 4, 1826, two signers, John Adams (age 90) and Thomas Jefferson (age 83), died. In those fifty years between, these two Founders had gone from being simple writers and signers and colonial delegates to being ambassadors, presidents, serving in office together (because of tricky constitutional wording, Jefferson was Adams’s VP even though they ran against each other), bitter political rivals, and then dear friends — and always, patriots and brilliant, brilliant minds. Even more strangely, Adams’s last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” when in fact his friend had passed away just a few hours earlier. Poignantly, Jefferson’s last words were, “Is it the Fourth?”
(More bizarre-ness: James Monroe — President #5 — also died on July 4th, in 1831.)
1802: The US Military Academy opens in West Point, New York.
1872: Calvin Coolidge, our thirtieth president, is born.
1859: A forty-ninth star is added to the Stars and Stripes, representing the new state of Alaska.
1860: A fiftieth star is added to the Stars and Stripes, representing the new state of Hawaii.