Independence Day: Living History Across the Nation

by   |   dalewand@bju.edu   |  

Independence Day, more commonly referred to as the Fourth of July, is associated with picnics, parades and fireworks displays usually accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” It’s a national holiday and has been since 1870.

Fireworks displays and concerts on July 4 are scheduled for downtown Greenville and the nearby South Carolina communities of Fountain Inn, Spartanburg, Pickens and Central. Mauldin holds its annual fireworks show July 5.

Watching from the comfort of your home, fireworks displays will be televised live July 4 evening from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol (8 ET, PBS, as part of “A Capitol Fourth” concert), New York City from barges in the East River (8 ET, NBC) and Boston (8 ET, Bloomberg, as part of the Boston Pops concert). Additionally, fireworks from the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed at 9 p.m. ET at the Disney Parks blog.

Get in the spirit of ’76 by listening to John Philip Sousa marches.

The Call for Independence

Tension with Great Britain had been brewing for more than two years, especially over the issue of taxation of the colonies without representation in Parliament.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion in Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia, to declare independence from Great Britain. Other members of the Continental Congress were amenable but thought some colonies not quite ready. However, Congress did form a committee to draft a declaration of independence and assigned this duty to Thomas Jefferson.

The Continental Congress voted on July 2 to sever political connections to Great Britain. Delegates spent two days revising the document (86 total changes) drafted by Jefferson, and on July 4 Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The delegates, seeking to spread the news, ordered reproductions of the document to be dispatched across the colonies. On July 6, The Philadelphia Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the document. There are about two dozen copies of the document of hundreds printed that are known to still exist.

If they would have had the technology, signing a printed copy would have taken place within the hour. Because the declaration had to be written on parchment in clear penmanship, most delegates didn’t sign it until August 2.

That signed original resides at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., alongside the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

South Carolina Connection

The youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence was Edward Rutledge, a lawyer from Charleston, South Carolina, who was 26 years, 8 months, 8 days old. He later served as the state’s 39th governor.

Fellow South Carolinian Thomas Lynch Jr., 110 days older, was the next youngest signer. At 70, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer.

Two other delegates from South Carolina—Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward Jr.—signed the declaration. You can visit a home associated with each South Carolinian for a living history tour.

Amaze Family, Impress Friends

Some trivia to pass along:

The declaration, though the most important event of its day, is not the only thing of significance that occurred on July 4. A number of other events and people are associated with the date over the years.

Unlike the feature film “National Treasure,” there’s nothing written in invisible ink on the back of the original Declaration of Independence. But there is writing on the back (upside down at the bottom): Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776. It’s thought to be a label for when it was transported.

Here’s a gift idea for the person who has almost everything: An American flag that has flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The website for one of your senators or representative has a form under Constituent Services to place an order. That piece of information is from American Flag Facts.

Activities Especially for Children

Tour the White House and visit the national parks without leaving home. Follow the timeline of the American Revolution, plan an adventure to Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina and explore your own family history.

Take Independence Day lessons on the road and pass the time with car games. Once you arrive at your destination, have fun with easy craft ideas: a paper lantern, sun catcher, a patriotic drawing tutorial, and an Independence Day eagle coloring page.

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