It Takes More Than a Few Malcontents To Start A Revolution

Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze
Washington Crossing the Delaware, painting by Emmanuel Leutze

Washington at Valley Forge
‘Twas bitter cold and up spoke George
Vo do do, vo doe doe de o, doe.
No–you don’t say?”

from Crazy Words, Crazy Tunes – lyrics by Irving Aaronson

Happy Birthday America

Today marks the 248th anniversary of the signing of  the Declaration of Independence. Hooray for hot dogs and hamburgers grilled outdoors, but let’s not forget that the Revolutionary War dragged on for many  years until Lord Cornwallis finally laid down his sword at the battle of Yorktown. Then there was the French Navy, who at the time of surrender, had blockcaded British ships from coming to the aid of their landlocked general. During this time period, the Revolutionary Army had very few victories. In fact, you might say that the deck was pretty well stacked against them. During the conflict, the fledgling new nation had many enemies besides the most obvious, the imperial motherland of Great Britain.

How Popular Was the Revolt?

In the initial stages the effort of the Colonists to obtain independence from Great Britain was quite popular. This can be seen in events at Concord, Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party. However as the war dragged on the war effort lost appeal to many Colonists. On top of this there were a substantial number of New World residents, who saw many economic advantages in retaining close ties with England. After the war, many Loyalists, as the Tories were sometimes called, chose to relocate to other parts of the British Empire, such as Canada or the Caribbean. It is estimated that during the war, as much as 20% of the white population remained loyal to the crown. Still, the war effort would not have been successful without widespread support throughout the Colonial population. To complicate matters for the British, many European powers, including the French, Spanish and even the Dutch, ended up supporting the birth of a new nation on the shores of the New World.

Myths of the American Revolution

Here is a list of seven myths compiled from a Smithsonian article by John Ferling.

1. I. Great Britain Did Not Know What It Was Getting Into
2. Americans Of All Stripes Took Up Arms Out Of Patriotism
3. Continental Soldiers Were Always Ragged And Hungry
4. The Militia Was Useless
5. Saratoga Was The War’s Turning Point
6. General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist
7. Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, painting by John Trumbull

Happy Fourth of July and enjoy those hamburgers, hot dogs and beers.

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Bastille Day Comes and Goes

Bastille Day fireworks in Paris, 2006
Fireworks in Paris, 2006 commemorating Bastille Day, July 14, 1789

In The USA and Elsewhere

Though a French holiday, Bastille Day in the US is celebrated in many urban areas, including New Orleans, Baltimore, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City. Around the world, you can find lively festivals in Hungary, Belgium, the UK  (London) and Quebec Province in Canada. Like the Fourth of July in the US and Canada Day (July 1), this July holiday provides a convenient excuse for lighting up the summer’s night sky with a flurry of fireworks. I guess there is something in our human nature that wants to do this kind of activity on some of the shortest and warmest nights of the year.

Demolition of The Bastille in Paris, France
The Bastille in Paris, France was demolished shortly after its takeover on July 14, 1789, Anonymous, from Wikipedia

The Bastille

The Bastille was originally a fortress built between 1370 and 1380 by King Charles V of France. However, over the years, the mighty structure was used more often to keep prisoners in rather than invaders out. And so over the following centuries, the towering walls were frequently used to contain the favorite enemies and threats to the Kings of France. This change occurred most notably around 1600 during the reign of Henry IV and his son Louis XIII. The heyday of the prison occurred during the reign of Louis XIV, when over a thousand prisoners, mostly political were housed here.  By the time Louis the XVI came to power the prison was mostly used to hold a small number of petty criminals and degenerates.

And in 1789, when the building was stormed by protesters the place only held eight only prisoners with over a 100  troops defending the gigantic edifice.  On the day the Bastille fell, nearly a hundred protesters died, while just a few of the defenders perished. Still, the attackers managed to get inside and seize much-needed ammunition and gunpowder for their cause. They also captured several Swiss defenders and executed them in the street.

Importance of the Bastille

The importance of the Bastille was more symbolic than anything else, for it represented two centuries of rule by powerful French kings, who had no second thoughts about incarcerating royal dissidents. The building’s destruction also gave the revolutionary movement a cause and something to cheer about, even though the most hideous days of the prison had long passed.

John Hancock and the Fourth of July

American Flags
The current 50-star flag was adopted on July 4, 1960 after Alaska, the fiftieth state was admitted to the Union.

John Hancock and the Fourth of July

We all know that the Fourth of July celebrates the actual date, when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and ratified the Declaration of Independence.  However, contrary to popular belief the famous document was not actually signed until August 2 of the same year, when all  fifty-six delegates officially put their name on the document. However, it is believed that John Hancock placed his showy signature to the written draft on July 4, when the paper was sent to the printer. At the time, John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies and also President of the Continental Congress. Perhaps, these impressive credentials are revealed in his expressive penmanship that so effectively embodied the revolutionary spirit of the times.

Writing_the_Declaration_of_Independence_1776
Thomas Jefferson (right), Benjamin Franklin (left), and John Adams (center) meet at Jefferson’s lodgings to review the Declaration of Independence, artwork by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)

Hancock’s Tragedy

Despite Hancock’s groundbreaking role in forging the 13 colonies into a fledgling nation, the fervent patriot would find great tragedy in his personal life. John and his wife, Dorothy Quincy,  would give birth to only two children, John George Washington Hancock and Lydia Henchman Hancock,  neither of whom would live to be a teenager.

Betsy Ross Flag
The original flag had 13 stars and 13 stripes and is known as the Betsy Ross Flag, source Wikipedia

 

And don’t forget. Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

San Diego Fireworks
San Diego Fireworks on the Fourth Of July, from wikipedia