By Brett Cafferty

I’m positive that I learned about the events that led up to what we now celebrate as Independence Day, but I will admit that it was a long, long time ago! The details of what possessed our forefathers to break free of the “mother country” had become more than hazy. Our country was settled by immigrants looking for religious freedom – to worship as they felt called to do. I decided to give myself a refresher course of our nation’s history and share it with you as we commemorate another July 4th.  

More than a decade before the American Revolution, tensions were building between colonists and the British authorities. The French and Indian War, or Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), involved the British and French fighting for control of territories in North America. This increased the areas under British rule, but the expensive conflict led to new and unpopular taxes. British efforts to raise revenue by taxing the colonies (the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Tea Act) were met with protest among many colonists, who resented their lack of representation in Parliament. 

Resistance led to violence in 1770 when British soldiers fired on a mob of colonists, killing five people in what came to be known as the Boston Massacre. In December 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place when a band of Bostonians dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor in protest. This led to Parliament passing a series of punitive measures to reassert imperial authority in Massachusetts.

In response, a group of colonial delegates (including George Washington, John and Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Jay) met in Philadelphia in September 1774 to give voice to their grievances. This First Continental Congress did not demand independence but denounced taxation without representation and the maintenance of the British army in the colonies without their consent. The congressmen issued a declaration of the rights due every citizen, including life, liberty, property, assembly, and trial by jury. They voted to meet in May 1775 to consider further action, but by then violence had already broken out.

The Shot heard round the world

On April 18, 1775, hundreds of British troops marched from Boston to nearby Concord, Massachusetts, to seize an arms cache. Paul Revere and other riders sounded the alarm, and colonial militiamen mobilized to stop the British Redcoats. On April 19, local militiamen clashed with British soldiers in the Battles of Lexington and Concord – the “shot heard round the world” that signified the start of the Revolutionary War.

When the Second Continental Congress convened a month later in Philadelphia in May of 1775, delegates that included new additions Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson voted to form a Continental Army, with George Washington as its Commander In Chief. 

By June 1776, a growing majority of colonists had come to favor independence from Britain. On July 4, the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, drafted by a five-man committee, including Franklin and John Adams and written mainly by Thomas Jefferson.

At that point, American and British forces had already been engaged in armed conflict for fifteen months. For the next five years, The Continental Army and local militias would fight battle after battle against the mightiest military on earth. France entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonists in 1778, followed by Spain in 1779, turning what had essentially been a civil war into an international conflict.

Thanks to the military leadership of George Washington, and the combined efforts of the French Navy along with Washington’s friend and ally, General Marquis de Lafayette, the British surrendered after the Siege of Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The fight for independence was over. The Treaty of Paris, signed between the United States and Great Britain on September 3, 1783, made it official. 

Our country’s actual independence was more than a decade in the making. Through courage, wisdom, and by weathering difficulties and great sacrifices, The (future) United States had become a sovereign and independent nation. Under God.