Yesterday I was walking through a little vendor mall (glorified indoor flea market with booths operated by multiple people) and found a neat little piece of American Bicentennial memorabilia. I found a 2×3 foot flag emblazoned with the words “American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976” and with a stylized red, white and blue star emblem. I bought it, as I pick up an inexpensive piece of such themed from time to time.
This little flag got me to thinking. When was the U.S.A. officially founded? When was our bicentennial? This is not the easy question that it seems to be.
The thirteen colonies were in a state of armed rebellion after the “shot heard round the world” at Lexington on April 19, 1775. The Continental army was formed in 1775.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 2, 1776, and subsequently officially printed on parchment and signed by John Hancock on July 4, 1776. This was the unanimous declaration of all 13 states, although several states had declared their independence earlier than the joint declaration. This is why we celebrate the 4th of July.
In a July 3 letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams stated the following: “The Second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the 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 forevermore”. (Modern Americans are two days late. I covered this in my July 4th blog post).
But the Declaration of Independence did not a country make. We were still 13 separate and fully sovereign nations in free and mutual association with each other while fighting a common foe –the British government. The Continental Congress had no power to tax any state, or pass laws valid in the territory of a state. We were not formally and legally united.
To formally unite us, the Articles of Confederation was written in 1777. However the Articles were not ratified until 1781 –when the eight year Revolutionary War was ¾ over! We had no general/national/federal government for most of the war.
Then in 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed. In this treaty, Great Britain formally acknowledged our independence and the United States legal ownership of the 13 colonies and the Northwest Territory. We were free legally and practically in 1776, but not officially in the eyes of our former masters until 1783.
The Articles of Confederation were generally considered to be a weak and somewhat flawed document. This was solved by the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was there that this convention, presided over by George Washington himself, wrote our current Constitution. However, the Constitution was not ratified by the required 9 states (Article VII) until 1788, and did not go into effect until 1789. The final 13th state, Rhode Island, did not ratify until 1790.
To top this off, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, usually known as the Bill of Rights, were not ratified into effect until December 15, 1791. Now the Constitution was complete as envisioned by Federalist supporters and Anti-Federalist skeptics.
In 1976 there was a great deal of interest in and celebration of the Bicentennial. There were celebrations everywhere. The government issued memorabilia such as coin sized commerative medallions, and even changed the back of the quarter, half dollar, and dollar coins for 1976. Private companies made a huge amount of Bicentennial collectables.
Which brings us back to the question I began with. When was the U.S.A. officially founded?
It would seem to me that the best option would be 1781, when the Articles of Confederation formally and legally united the 13 colonies into a political union with the formal name of United States. As much as I love the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, perhaps as much as I love the Constitution itself, the correct answer to my question would seem to be 1781.
It would appear that we celebrated our Bicentennial not only in the wrong year, but in the wrong decade. That is a tad embarrassing.
~Remember the Founders and the 14 Words~
Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Charles Putnam of Orange County, Indiana. All rights reserved.