As we grill hot dogs on America's 234th birthday, it's hard to imagine what it might have been like for a group of backwater colonists to draft a hostile breakup letter to one of the world's greatest superpowers -- even going so far as to publicly talk trash about their King. In order to better understand the origins of America's beloved Independence Day, our love of amateur fireworks, and burning effigies, Holidash caught up with Dr. Libby O'Connell, the Chief Historian at HISTORY.
When the Continental Congress met in the summer of 1776, it became obvious that the delegates were leaning toward a new system of government, free of British rule. However, the idea was not necessarily the overwhelming will of the majority. Contrary to popular belief, "There wasn't a 'Let's Declare Independence' campaign for years and years before the war. In 1770, most colonists considered themselves loyal British citizens," Dr. O'Connell tells Holidash.
Even after the fighting began in 1775, experts estimate that "Roughly 25% of colonists were loyalists, 25% were ardent revolutionaries, and the rest were back and forth," explains O'Connell. The Declaration of Independence helped unify the rebelling colonies under a common goal: To throw off the "tyranny" and "despotism" of King George III once and for all.
The delegates at the Continental Congress took the declaration process very seriously. So seriously, in fact, "that they felt the need to draft a document to explain why they were declaring independence. To say, more or less, that we're not just misbehaving colonists," explains Dr. O'Connell.
Of course, that's why the brought out the big guns: Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston to write this new document. These brilliant minds decided to put the writing duties in Jefferson's capable hands, who locked himself in a room for two weeks to craft the earth-shattering document. After much debate, the Continental Congress tentatively approved a version on July 2nd, taking two more days to adopt the final version unanimously.
Throughout the rest of the war, colonists celebrated the Fourth of July much like we do today. That is to say, with fireworks, merriment, and burning King George III in effigy. OK, so we don't burn effigies so much these days ... but Dr. O'Connell tells Holidash that effigies were all the rage during the Revolutionary War. Also during the fighting, "General Washington gave his troops double ration of rum on July 4," explains O'Connell, "He knew how to party."
Much like our modern Fourth of July traditions, colonists enjoyed fireworks and even barbecues (though they didn't call it that back then). "They had fireworks to celebrate important dates, so the fireworks tradition began almost immediately," O'Connell tells Holidash. "Ironically," she adds, "Most of our Fourth of July tradition's come from Britain's holiday that celebrates the King's Birthday (observed in late June)."
Here's another American History fun fact: "Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence," say O'Connell.
Now that we're all caught up on American history, let's talk about American style: ShelterPop's got the 411 this fourth of July.