Happy 2nd of July! John Adams gave me premium cable, the least we can do iscelebrate the proper day
Every Fourth of July, I give thanks to John Adams for helping to facilitate our difficult separation from Great Britain. Recently, I've been thanking him for prompting me to subscribe to HBO.
Just a few years ago, I was content with a rather pedestrian cable subscription.
Yet that all changed in 2008, when news broke that HBO was producing a mini-series based on David McCullough’s best-selling book John Adams.
The prospect of a seven-part program on this “colossus of independence” not only electrified the dork community in which I reside, it made evident both my right and my duty to break free from basic cable and instead order a decadent selection of premium channels.
Call it a shallow pursuit of happiness.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Paul Giamatti’s brilliant performance in the series, I likewise appreciated how John Adams helped bring renewed attention to the importance of the American Revolution and the struggle for independence.
Yet despite the series, there are still some lingering misunderstandings about the Fourth of July and the events that led the 13 colonies to be “absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown.”
Happy Second of July?
In addition to crediting John Adams for my current cable selection, I blame John Adams for “forcing” me to start celebrating our nation’s birthday on July 2nd.
After all, it was Adams who envisaged July 2nd as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” Writing to his wife Abigail, Adams believed that July 2nd “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."
Buzz off, Brits
Acclaimed historian and Revolutionary War expert Dr. James Kirby Martin, a professor at the University of Houston, offered an explanation of this discrepancy in dates as well as other insights into the events that created our nation of “free and independent states.”
“There's a difference between declaring independence and approving the Declaration of Independence,” Martin explained. “Declaring independence from Great Britain occurred in the Continental Congress on July 2, when delegates from 12 colonies voted for separation and one delegation (New York) abstained.”
“Once that vote had taken place,” Martin continued, “the delegates turned to the matter of discussing and voting for the draft Declaration, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson but with some assistance from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.”
Then, according to Martin, after Jefferson completed the Declaration, “the delegates pored over the draft, making several small adjustments in wording.” They likewise cut out some of Jefferson’s original passages, including “the proposed clause that blamed slavery on the king, which was absurd.”
Once edited, “the unanimous vote for the Declaration occurred on the 4th, with the first public reading on the 9th, and delegates affixing their signatures into August.”
This explains both Adams’ view on July 2nd and our celebration of July 4th, as “there were two declarations, and it took more than a month to complete the whole process.”
Yet according to Martin, we rightfully celebrate on the 4th. “Our celebrations on the 4th make good sense,” as it is “one of the key dates in the process of telling the British home government to, well, buzz off.”
Martin is author of a number of books on the American Revolution, including a compelling biography of Benedict Arnold. His most recent book on the era, however, focuses on the Oneida Indians and their contributions in the American Revolution.
Martin wrote Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, with co-author Joseph T. Glatthaar, to tell “the story of true Americans, in this case Oneida Indians, heretofore left out of our national history.” In the book Martin detailed how the Oneida Indians “also fought on behalf of American liberty, but gained virtually nothing for their efforts, except a forgotten place in our historical memories.”
From his research on both the rank and file soldier and the contributions of the Oneida, Martin concluded that “the Revolution, in its many phases and outcomes, was much more complex than just a matter of great numbers of hardy freehold farmers rising up and giving their all until the British had finally been beaten.”
Facts are Stubborn Things
Martin also illustrated that contrary to popular imagination, "only a few did the actual fighting” during the war itself.
"After the first few months of fighting in 1775," Martin noted, "most colonists wanted nothing to do with Continental military service. George Washington struggled to keep an army in the field and did so by ultimately depending on poorer, disadvantaged folk with marginal prospects in life and even slaves substituting for their masters.”
So if you are going to raise a glass this Fourth of July, raise it to the “real Continentals who made those horrific sacrifices of long-term Continental service for the many in the Revolutionary populace.” They are indeed “the people who should be especially remembered as we celebrate the 4th and our liberties each year.”