Before 1776, the 4th day of July was nothing special. Some things had occurred on that date – various battles, canonizations, notable births – but for the most part it was just another day. Until this group of men met in Philadelphia and, eventually, declared that the 13 colonies ” are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” The actual day that the resolution passed was July 2nd, but wrangling about the text took the Congress two additional days. The Declaration of Independence was finally approved on July 4, 1776 (though not everyone signed that day – stragglers would sign months later), so that is the date that became our nation’s birthday. That makes America a Cancer, by the way. These events all came after that hot day in 1776…
1791 – The first Independence Day celebration is held. Though the day had been commemorated since 1777 with gun salutes, parades, fireworks, speeches and such, the holiday was not known as “Independence Day” until 1791. Massachusetts General Court had been the first state legislature to declare the day a state celebration ten years previously.
1803 – The Louisiana Purchase is announced to the American people. President Thomas Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison, (with some strategic diplomacy from James Monroe) had been working to negotiate the purchase for over a year. And, though rumors flew beforehand, the message confirming the purchase from Monroe and the U.S. Minister to France, Robert Livingston, reached Washington, D.C. in time to be officially announced on July fourth.
1817 – Construction on Erie Canal began in Rome, NY. The entire canal took over eight years to complete. It ran from Rome to Troy, connecting to the Hudson river. Thousands of British, German and Irish immigrants dug the canal with sheer muscle and some horse-power, being paid between 80 cents and a dollar per day. The canal consisted of 85 locks to raise the water level 500 feet from the Hudson River to Buffalo. It ran 363 miles, was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. It cost $7 million but the shipping costs it saved were more than worth it. The railroad made the canal obsolete but it is still there today, used for pleasure boating and other recreation.
1826 – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson die within hours of one another. These two great Founding Fathers were friends, then adversaries, then, finally, friends again. They were the last surviving members of the original revolutionaries. Though they shared the same ideal – independence – their policy ideas were at odds. They didn’t speak for many years after they both served their presidential terms. Adams broke the silence with a letter to his old friend on January 1, 1812, wishing him a happy New Year. This rekindled their friendship. On July 4, 1826 John Adams lay on his deathbed. As he lay dying, he whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” But Jefferson had died five hours before his old friend. (Excuse me, I have something in my eye…)
1845 – Texas Congress votes for annexation to the United States. The South was anxious to have the state of Texas added to the U.S., as it would add to their strength. The inhabitants of Texas were likewise eager to join. The Northern states worried that such an annexation would lead to war with Mexico. It took over a year of negotiation by President Tyler and Secretary of State John Calhoun along with representatives from Texas. The question of annexation was a big issue during the 1844 election, which James Polk (who favored it) ended up winning. The resolution was passed on March 1, 1845 and sent to the Texas Congress. They accepted the resolution on July 4th of that year, becoming one of the United States.
1861 – A skirmish at Harper’s Ferry, WV marked an escalation in the Civil War. General Robert Patterson’s Union forces met General Joseph Johnstons’ Confederate men at this small town in the Shenandoah Valley where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge. It was a strategic spot not only because of the rivers but because of the railroad running through the town.
1876 – Auguste Bartholdi visits Bedloe Island, future home of his Statue of Liberty. Bartholdi was inspired by the statues and pyramids of Egypt to build a lighthouse for the Suez Canal. Those plans fell through but his vision, a woman holding a torch, eventually became Liberty Enlightening The World. Bartholdi made several trips to America looking for the right place for his Lady to stand. When he visited New York Harbor, he spotted Bedloe Island and knew that is where she would lift her lamp forever.
1946 – The Philippines gains its independence from the United States. We are not the only ones who celebrate Independence on the 4th of July. The Spanish-American War began in 1898, with the U.S. fighting the Spanish in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. In 1899, the Philippines became a U.S. territory, as America defeated Spain. This didn’t sit too well with the Filipino population. Their rebellion lasted until 1902, when a provisional American government was set up in Manila. That lasted until 1935, when the Commonwealth of the Philippines was established. Full independence was granted on July 4, 1946 to the new Republic of the Philippines.
1950 – The first broadcast by Radio Free Europe, which was then known as the “Voice of Free Czechoslovakia,” occurred. The CIA set up the radio under the name National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE). Though there was an ideological purpose for the broadcasting, a cover had to be established. NCFE was that cover. Broadcasts began from a WWII surplus shortwave truck known as “Barbara.” Nobody knows if that first broadcast was even heard by anyone outside of the traveling studio, but it was the trial run for 63 years of broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain.
1960 – America’s new 50-star flag was unfurled for the first time on July 4, 1960 in Philadelphia. It was the last time the American flag was updated. The last two stars represented Alaska and Hawai’i, the last two states to join the United States.
1966 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act. This law requires that government agencies release their records on request to the public. Of course, there are exemptions, such as national security (a common refrain) or to protect someone’s right to privacy. Refusals can go before a court. States followed with similar laws, often known as “Sunshine Laws,” in reference to the old adage that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
2004 – The cornerstone of the Freedom Tower is laid on the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. Though this was largely a symbolic event (actual construction would not start for several weeks), it was both historic and cathartic for the U.S. The governor of New York, George Pataki, spoke at the event:
“Today is indeed, a momentous day. Today we take 20 tons of Adirondack granite – the bedrock of our State – and place it as the foundation, the bedrock of a new symbol of American strength and confidence. Today, we lay the cornerstone for a new symbol of this city and this country and of our resolve in the face of terror. Today we build the Freedom Tower.”
And, with that, we come to today. Egypt was a day early but, hopefully, they will be celebrating their own independence this time next year. Meanwhile, each of us celebrates our own freedom. Though we often disagree about what direction it will take and we sometimes have terrible words, we all love America in our own way. God/dess bless the USA.