By BETTY RATLIFF SMITH/Sun Community Editor
Independence Day, observed on July 4, commemorates the birthday of the United States. As the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, it is a major American holiday and an important time for celebration.
"When in the course of human events ..."
Taxation without representation! That was the battle cry of the 13 colonies in America who were forced to pay taxes to England's King George III with no representation in Parliament. As dissatisfaction grew, British troops were sent in to quell any signs of rebellion, and repeated attempts by the colonists to resolve the crisis without war proved fruitless.
On June 11, 1776, the colonies' Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia formed a committee with the express purpose of drafting a document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. The document was crafted by Jefferson, who was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer (although 86 changes were made to his draft). The final version was officially adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4.
The following day, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed, and on July 6, The Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to print the extraordinary document.
The Declaration of Independence has since become our nation's most cherished symbol of liberty.
Bonfires and Illuminations
On July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia's Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band music. One year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks.
The custom eventually spread to other towns, where the day was marked with processions, speeches, picnics, contests, games, military displays and fireworks.
On June 24, 1826, due to ill health, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Roger C. Weightman declining an invitation to come to Washington, D.C., to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was the last letter that Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote. In it, Jefferson says of the document:
"May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ... For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. "
Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870 and in 1938, Congress reaffirmed it as a holiday, but with full pay for federal employees. Today, communities across the nation mark this major midsummer holiday with parades, fireworks, picnics and the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and marches by John Philip Sousa.
Many Fourth of July customs have not changed since our earliest celebrations. But some communities across the nation have developed their own special traditions, with our own community joining thousands across the country.
Clark County will observe the holiday tomorrow with a celebration at Lykins Park, Mt. Sterling Road. Gates open at 4 p.m., entertainment will be provided, concessions will be available and the evening will conclude with a fireworks display.