UND History professor reflects on Independence Day


Amy Halvorson

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UND History professor reflects on Independence Day

In a few days, thousands of Americans are going to be packing picnic baskets, piling into cars, heading to the lake and watching fireworks in honor of the 4th of July.

It's easy to forget that the 4th of July, a day we celebrate by chance, is actually Independence Day — a day the United States set aside to honor the Declaration of Independence.

According to University of North Dakota history professor, Eric Burin, "(The Declaration of Independence) constitutes the nation's cornerstone and has inspired freedom-lovers in the U.S. and abroad."

The root of contention

The road to independence started with the ending of the French and Indian War in 1763.

"The victorious British had two problems: a large debt to repay and a global empire to defend," said Burin.

In an attempt to raise the money to repay their debts, the British taxed their North American subjects.

"Some British North American colonists protested these measures, claiming that they had been deemed equals during the war (French and Indian War), but were now being treated as inferiors who were subject to 'taxation without representation,'" said Burin.

"Taxation without representation," in this case, refers to a lack of representatives from the North American colonies representing the colony's needs, wants or capabilities to the British Parliament.

"Some (British North American colonists) confined their protests to economic boycotts and political remonstrances; others resorted to vigilantism," said Burin. "Ultimately, these conflicts resulted in bloodshed, which in turn emboldened some colonists to call for independence."

Making a masterpiece

Thomas Jefferson drew up the original draft of the Declaration of Independence; from there, it went through committees and subcommittees, and eventually the document was debated by the entire Continental Congress and signed over the course of multiple weeks, said Burin.

Thomas Jefferson believed that the Continental Congress had "mangled" the Declaration of Independence, even though only about 25 percent had been changed, said Burin.

July 2, 1776, was the actual date the Continental Congress voted for independence, not July 4.

"John Adams predicted that this (July 2) would be the day Americans would celebrate with fireworks," said Burin.

We celebrate July 4 because that was the day the Declaration of Independence was dated. However, it wasn't actually signed until Aug. 2.

Adams nailed it on the head that Americans would be celebrating Independence Day with fireworks, even if he was wrong about the date.

A lasting legacy

The Declaration of Independence is different from the U.S. Constitution in the fact that the Declaration of Independence carries no legal weight; however some see them as mutually reinforcing.

"Lincoln likened the Declaration of Independence to an apple of gold and the U.S. Constitution to a picture of silver," said Burin.

The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture. — Abraham Lincoln

So when you're out and about on July 4, take a moment and recall why that day is celebrated — even if it is two days late.

Amy Halvorson University & Public Affairs student writer

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