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  • Writer's pictureJake

Why the Fourth of July?

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

This story comes from a write-up I did for the Crawdaddy Chronicle, a quarterly newsletter published for Uncle Squig's Gumbo. My dad calls himself Uncle Squig and has had some recent success in the gumbo-making business. I liked this story, and found it relevant to the holiday at hand, so I decided to share it here with you. Enjoy!

The story of American democracy is one of an ever-continuing drama between two political foes wrestling against the other to advance their idea of America. Political differences and the people who create them are certainly not a new feature of American politics. The people who ran the burgeoning government of the United States could be just as stubborn as today’s politicians. The story of “The Fourth of July” takes us back to the very beginning of this wrestling match beginning in 1776. At the center of it we find two men of opposing political views who would spend their lives fighting from opposite corners of the 18th century political spectrum.

Thomas Jefferson & John Adams
Thomas Jefferson & John Adams

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress formally voted in favor of, dare I say it, secession from the empire of Great Britain. The speaker asked,

“Say Yea if you want to kick it from Britain,” and most men said,

Yea!” and then they may or may not have yelled,

“Raise a glass to free-dom!”

This symbolic vote was the culmination of much debate and meant that the colonies would betray the King of England, declare independence, and likely go to war. Mr. John Adams, a delegate representing Massachusetts, was very excited about the July 2nd vote for freedom. He wrote to his wife Abigail of the events of the day:

“[Independence Day] will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

The drafting of the Declaration of Independence

To make Amexit, if you will, occur it would take more than a group of men yelling, “Yea!” Five men of the congress were tasked with authoring the formal declaration document to be ratified: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Most of them were very busy celebrating or writing long letters to their wives. One eager member of the four penned most of the document as it was decided that he had the most superior writing prowess. Thus, Thomas Jefferson would get credit for writing the Declaration of Independence and the others would get a hangover.

The congress convened again with Jefferson’s document in hand. They struck out a few phrases, and formally ratified the document that is known as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Jefferson’s declaration was sent to a press and circulated to the people.

John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, & Thomas Jefferson presenting the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress

There was no concrete celebration of an Independence Day for several years. As the new constitutional government took root, John Adams’ political party, The Federalists, imploded and Thomas Jefferson’s party reigned virtually unopposed for several presidential terms. Right around this time, a much more concentrated celebration culminated around Jefferson’s declaration signing day of the 4th of July rather than the “vote” day celebrated by Adams on the 2nd.

In the decades following the signing of the declaration, the two political foes developed several differences in their political careers. They nonetheless rekindled respect for one another as they aged, with several letters passing between Monticello and Massachusetts. Their ever-contentious friendship developed into a competition for one to survive the other.

On July 4th, 1826, John Adams’ time was running short as Americans across the country celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the signing of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. He used his last breath to argue a final plea, “Jefferson still lives.” Adams was unaware that Thomas Jefferson had passed away three hours earlier that same day under similar circumstances. This half-centennial celebration of independence would serve as a symbolic crescendo to the lives of two great men, exactly 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.

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