July 4 In 1826

As Adams and Jefferson died, America came of age

The approach of the fiftieth birthday of the United States, in 1826, naturally animated the minds of Americans with thoughts of the nation’s past, the heritage they had received from those who had asserted and won independence, and the dwindling number of Revolutionary leaders who survived.

 
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Making Sense Of The Fourth Of July

The DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE is not what Thomas Jefferson thought it was when he wrote it—and that is why we celebrate it

 

John Adams thought Americans would commemorate their Independence Day on the second of July. Future generations, he confidently predicted, would remember July 2, 1776, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” and celebrate it as their “Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It 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.”

 
 
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The Slave Who Sued For Freedom

While the Revolution was still being fought, Mum Bett declared that the new nation’s principle of liberty must extend to her too. It took eighty years and a far more terrible war to confirm the rights she demanded.

Early during the year 1781, having heard a lot of talk about the “rights of man,” a black slave woman named Mum Bett walked out of her master’s house in western Massachusetts to tell a lawyer that she wanted to sue for her freedom. After asking her what had put such an extraordinary idea into her head and being satisfied by her reply, the lawyer agreed to represent her. The case is a reminder of the fact that slavery existed even in the cradle of abolitionism, and it is a testament to the hopes inspired by revolutionary rhetoric.Read more »

Interview With A Founding Father

James Wilson was an important but now obscure draftsman of the Constitution. Carry Wills is a journalist and historian fascinated by what went on in the minds of our founders. The two men meet in an imaginary dialogue across the centuries.

 

His red judge’s robe looked faded and theatrical by daylight. People at the bus stop stared at him, and his face flushed near the color of the robe. But he busily ignored them. Read more »

Of Human Rights… And Wrongs

We Americans pride ourselves on our sophistication. We like to think that we are worldly-wise and cynical. We shed our milk teeth long ago, and if anyone appeals to our better impulses our instinctive response is to ask: Well, now, what’s his angle? Read more »

The First Fourth

John Adams was certain the second of July would be celebrated “by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” Writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, the day after the Continental Congress had voted momentously for independence from Great Britain, Adams said of July 2: Read more »

The Signer Who Recanted

Under duress in a British prison, Richard Stockton of New Jersey had the singular misfortune to become

Various legends linger around the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the circumstances of the signing.Read more »

The Most Successful Revolution

WHAT IS THERE TO CELEBRATE?

As we approach the bicentennial of the American Revolution we find ourselves in a paradoxical and embarrassing situation. A celebration of some kind certainly seems to be in order, but the urge to celebrate is not exactly overwhelming. Though many will doubtless ascribe this mood to various dispiriting events of the recent past or to an acute public consciousness of present problems, I think this would be a superficial judgment.Read more »

1876: The Eagle Screams

HISTORICAL REGISTER of the CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION 1876.

Philadelphia’s vast Fairmount Park stretches acre after acre, plateau after ravine, all empty now under the brittle blue of a winter sky. The people that came here in crowds a century ago to celebrate the country’s centennial are hard to imagine, however many faded photographs and woodcut illustrations one has seen of them. The some two hundred Exhibition buildings they massed in front of and wandered through are gone—torn down or changed utterly.Read more »

Firebrand Of The Revolution

For ten tumultuous years Sam Adams burned with a single desire: American independence from Great Britain.

Members of the British Parliament who voted approval of the Stamp Act late one night in 1765 and went yawning off to bed had never heard, it would seem, of Boston’s “Man of the Town Meeting,” Samuel Adams. It was a fatal lapse. From that moment until the Declaration of Independence, Sam Adams pounced on Britain every time she moved to impose her will on the colonies. He made politics his only profession and rebellion his only business. He drove two royal governors out of Massachusetts and goaded the British government into open war.