We celebrate July 4th because it was the day that the Continental Congress finally approved all the changes and edits to the July 2nd draft Declaration of Independence. Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, when it voted to approve a resolution of independence submitted by delegate Richard Henry Lee of Virginia (constitutioncenter.org).
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee read a resolution before the Continental Congress stating that these “United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States …. “. A Committee of Five was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. Specifically, Thomas Jefferson drafted it and Adams and Franklin made changes to it (wikipedia.org).
On July 2, 1776, the Lee resolution was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies. Congress discussed the Declaration document, made some alterations and deletions to it. On July 4, the Declaration was officially adopted. Most of the members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence document on August 2, 1776 (constitutioncenter.org).
Since 1526, in European controlled North America, only white men were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. These rights did not apply to slaves, indigenous peoples and free Blacks.
On July 5, 1852, Fredrick Douglas, a former slave, gave a talk in Rochester, New York where he reminded white Americans of the millions of men and women who have suffered in absolute bondage by saying:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license, your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloodier, than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.” (blackpast.org)
Where are we at today? Real democracy has been attempted in this country only since 1964, when after a bloody and deadly 10-year long struggle by Black Americans, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In his 1845 autobiography, Fredrick Douglas wrote: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Fredrick Douglas).
White America must prove to its Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian and LGBTQ citizens that the Declaration of Independence was not a lie. Other than ending slavery, have we really changed since 1776?
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