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Today, when people think of American independence, they think of the fourth of July. But labeling a single day of independence is not easy.
Most people don't look at a calendar and see March 5 as any sort of holiday, but the tragic events that occurred 238 years ago today played an important role in American history.
American colonies were losing patience with Great Britain. The economy had been struggling, yet the British parliament piled on taxes. Starting with their first imposed taxes, 1764's Sugar Act and Currency Act, colonies let their first complaints against taxation without representation be heard. But new taxes were tacked on in the following years, leading to March 5, 1770, when frustration boiled into what would become known as the "Boston Massacre."
Outside Boston's Custom House, an angry group of townsmen taunted British soldiers, drilling them with snowballs and insults. A thick crowd of hundreds formed around the soldiers. One soldier was smashed with a club and knocked down. The soldiers discharged their muskets, killing five.
March 5, 1770- catalyst for the war against Great Britain; The American Revolution.
Naturally, in a land full of people that hated them, nobody wanted to defend the British soldiers in court.
But showing his character and the values he wanted America to follow, John Adams took the case nobody wanted. Despite being heavily criticized from all around for taking the side of the enemy, he defended the British soldiers to the best of his ability. Adams argued in court that having been taunted and pressured by a mob of hundreds, the soldiers had no choice but to fire.
From the work of Italian enlightenment philosopher Cesare, Marchese di Beccaria, Adams copied in his diary, "If, by supporting the rights of mankind, and an invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny, or of ignorance, equally fatal, his blessings and years of transport will be sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind."
Remarkably, a fair trial was held, and six of the eight solders were acquitted. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded.
With the trial over, the massacre would not be forgotten. It sped up the uprising. Six years later in 1776, continuing his quest for equal rights for all mankind, Adams was a member of the Continental Congress, put in place to focus on the well-being of America. On their plate was the issue of Independence from Great Britain.
Around that time Adams wrote a letter to a friend saying, "Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now upon us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world."
Obviously, things went well for America. Here we are today, an independent nation, celebrating July 4 with fireworks and hotdogs, regardless of the fact that it actually wasn't July 4 that the colonies of America first came to the momentous agreement.
The actual breakthrough occurred on July 2. With New York refraining from voting, the remaining twelve American colonies at last reached a unanimous vote to declare independence from Great Britain. The motion had been agreed upon for the first time, and Thomas Jefferson went to work on writing the Declaration of Independence.
Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, "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..."
On July 4, 1776, Congress voted again with the same result, and the Declaration of Independence was ordered to be authenticated and printed. Only two people signed the document on this day. Nobody involved recorded much about the day, because compared to the historic unity on July 2 there wasn't a lot to record.
The Declaration was signed by important figures at different times and did not receive its final signature until Thomas McKean signed it long afterwards, in January of 1777.
It's hard to label a single day as our "Independence day." Was it in the 1760s, when taxation started to get out of control? Was it sometime in 1775, as the fighting was already under way in many areas? Was it July 2, 1776, when America's leading figures united for the first time and said, "Enough is enough"? Or was it July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration was authenticated and sent into public view?
It isn't clear. Opinions may differ. But really, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that there is a day, any day, we devote to reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be free.