Mayor Louis Manzo comments on Independence day.
On July 2, 1776, Continental Congress voted to approve a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Two days later, the declaration was actually made, which is why we celebrate the 4th of July as our Independence Day. History has credited Thomas Jefferson as the sole author of the monumental document, but a committee of five was actually charged with its writing on June 11, 1776. Jefferson wrote the first draft and the other four members (John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert Livingston of New York) edited it. Then all 56 members of the Congressional gathering had input before the vote on July 2.
Our independence and the seeds of the American Revolution only culminated with the declaration on July 4, 1776. English settlements in America began in the early 17th century with the Virginia Colony in 1607 and the Plymouth Colony in 1620. By 1765, more than 2 million English subjects lived in 13 established colonies and until that time, they enjoyed a high level of autonomy. However, that ended with the Stamp Act of 1765, which imposed internal taxes on the colonies and birthed the battle cry “taxation without representation”. Tensions increased over the next decade with the Townshend Acts of 1767 (more taxes), the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Tea Act of 1773, and subsequent Boston Tea Party in December of that year.
These tensions caused the colony leaders to convene the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September of 1774, to coordinate their resistance. The Revolutionary War officially erupted on April 19, 1775, with the “shot heard ‘round the world” at Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts). With Washington leading a newly formed Continental Army and each colony creating a Provincial Congress to assume governance, the stage was set for the actions declared in Philadelphia in July of 1776.
In rejecting monarchy and aristocracy, the Patriot leaders professed political philosophies of liberalism and republicanism. Yes, our founders used those words together in forming our democracy. By definition, these philosophies state recognition of the “unalienable rights of the individual and freedoms endowed by our “creator” and the “virtues” of duty and citizenship in a republic and the sovereignty of the people as the source of all authority”, respectively. Modern politicians may have perverted the use of these words, but the founders saw the true meaning of these principles in complete alignment, in fact, inseparable.
The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence included Richard Stockton of New Jersey and four other delegates from our state. These men, including two future Presidents, were the elite among the colonists at the time, with everything to lose. They stepped up and led a nation to freedom from monarchical rule, which paved the way for similar democratic pursuits worldwide. In many places, that fight still continues today. The Founders proved their belief in the self-evident truth that all men are created equal by “pledging to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.” Today we celebrate that commitment. Happy Birthday, America!