Independence Day is a grand occasion for United States citizens. Each July 4th, we commemorate the patriotism of men and women who fought and struggled under often impossible situations for freedom from oppressive English rule. However, July 4th is merely one day in the long history of the flight for our independence. That date in history marks the signature of the Declaration of Independence.
Genealogists who have studied United States history know that July 4th is neither the beginning nor the end of the American Revolutionary War. It was, of course, an important milestone in communications between the colonists and King George III. However, it also served as a statement of the colonistsâ€™ final frustration with a long series of unfair governmental restrictions, taxation, punitive treatment, and military attacks.
It is important to recognize that freedom did not come easily, nor did it come quickly. In fact, there was a period of thirteen years between the first military engagements at Lexington and Concord (on 19 April 1775) and the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788. The war itself lasted until the Treaty of Paris was signed on 3 September 1783, in which Britain accepted the independence of the thirteen colonies but retained the West Indies and the Canadian colonies. (You can view an image of the original treaty at the National Archives website.)
Try to imagine a war in the eighteenth century, waged with what we now consider archaic weapons. Imagine, too, the British troops employing military tactics and maneuvers that they had used in wars in other parts of the world. Those tactics proved ineffective in the skirmishes with the colonial patriots.
The colonials, for the most part, were products of state militia training, if they received any training at all, prior to serving. Colonial troopsâ€™ fighting methods often included guerrilla tactics, ambushes, and surprise attacks. The colonials had the advantage in that they were familiar with the terrain and were accustomed to using the natural resources in the environment to survive.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the colonial troops in the Continental Army or the various state militias had an easy time of it. On the contrary, the colonies had little money to pay the troops for their service or to provide provisions. Indeed, British blockades stopped inbound shipments of food, ammunition, clothing, and other vital supplies. There are many books available that detail the American Revolutionary War, the struggles of men and women, the privations and sacrifices, and individual battle descriptions. I urge you to seek out and read these books so that you can gain a better understanding of what our founding fathers endured in order to secure freedom from Britain.
Unfortunately, the Treaty of Paris was not the end of the struggle for freedom. While war was officially over in September 1783, the colonies still did not have a central government. Each colony, or state, ruled itself, and none was interested in relinquishing its own self-governing powers. It was not until 14 May 1787 that a constitutional convention was convened in Philadelphia. Throughout the summer, delegates met in closed sessions to draft a constitution that would produce the framework for an entirely new form of government.
Each stateâ€™s delegates was acutely aware of the need to retain its state’s rights and to achieve proper representation in governmental affairs–a sore point in British-colonial relations prior to the Revolution. Among the key points of discussion were: how much and what kind of powers would be invested in a federal government; how many representatives in Congress would be allowed per state; and how these representatives would be selected. As you can imagine, there were heated discussions about each of these topics. However, ultimately the delegates compromised and reached agreements on each of these key points.
The next step was to secure approval of the Constitution by the states themselves. There was a great deal of dissension about the content, and some opponents insisted that the verbiage would open the way to tyranny and abuses of power within the federal government. Opponents demanded the formulation of a â€œbill of rightsâ€ that would spell out the citizensâ€™ individual rights under this new constitution.
The first Congress submitted the Constitution on 25 September 1789 to the states for review and ratification. State conventions met to consider ratification of the proposed constitution and they also demanded that amendments to the original document be drafted. Over time, a total of twelve amendments were drafted, dubbed the â€œBill of Rights,â€ and were resubmitted to the states.
Finally, in 1790, the United States had a functional federal government consisting of an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. The framework of the Constitution provided for checks and balances between all three branches.
Between 1775 in 1790, a great deal of legislation was passed by both the state legislatures and by Congress in order to govern and administer laws to keep the colonies/United States in operation. It was an exceedingly difficult task that required some of the best legal, philosophical, and practical minds in this country.
As we celebrate Independence Day this year and every year, please remember that our freedom was a long time coming. It required the lives and sacrifices of many men and women. Our form of government was forged by representatives from each of the original states who courageously spoke out for the rights of their citizens and demanded a Bill of Rights that worked to secure a more perfect form of government that still works after more than 200 years.
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