Today in America we celebrate the 4th of July to remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th 1776. With that in mind, we Congress voted to declare independence on the 2nd and we didn’t “gain” independence until Great Britain conceded by signing the treaty of Paris in 1783. This distinction is important as it reminds us of the hard won physical and diplomatic battles fought for liberty and independence before and after July 4, 1776.
When did the United States Gain Independence From Britain?
Today when the United States of America (U.S.) celebrates Independence Day on the 4th of July we celebrate not only the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, but the course of events before and after July 4th, 1776 that led to the 1783 Treaty of Paris where the United States officially became free, sovereign, and independent states.
What you might not know about the Declaration of Independence. This is a Ted-ed video discussing the Declaration of Independence. See the Treaty of Paris video below to learn about the end of the revolution.
“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 forever more.” – John Adams to Abigail Adams July 3rd, 1776
A Timeline of American Independence
This is the timeline of America declaring and obtaining independence:
- The American revolution started in 1765. Many members of American colonial society rejected the authority of the British Parliament to tax them and create other laws affecting them without allowing colonial representatives in the government. This was a revolution justified by the Lockean ideas that people have the right to consent to be governed and should have representation in government.
- On June 11, 1776, The Second Continental Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration of independence from Britain on which participants might vote. A day later a drafting committee was appointed to draft the precursor to the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.
- The American colonies voted in Congress to declare independence from Britain on July 2nd, 1776.
- The Declaration of Independence was officially signed on July 4th, 1776.
- Independence was gained after the many Battle of the Revolution at peace talks in Paris, France. Great Britain conceded defeat at the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The Treaty of Paris formally ended the conflict, confirming the new nation’s complete separation from the British Empire.
- Following gaining independence, The United States of America took possession of nearly all the territory east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, with the British retaining control of Canada and Spain taking Florida.
- The Constitution, which establishes the government as we know it today (sans its 27 Amendments including the Bill of Rights), wasn’t ratified until June 21, 1788. Furthermore, the Thirteenth Amendment wasn’t signed until 1865, 100 years after the American Revolution had begun.
FACT: Today only article 1 of the Treaty of Paris (1783) remains in force. A slightly modernized and abridged version reads, “Britain acknowledges the United States [the thirteen states, listed] to be free, sovereign, and independent states, and that the British Crown and all heirs and successors relinquish claims to the Government, property, and territorial rights of the same, and every part thereof.” See exact text here.Treaty of Paris 1783 (American Revolutionary War).
America the Story of Us: Declaration of Independence | History.
TIP: This page clarifies the misconception that we celebrate the 4th of July to celebrate the date on which we gained independence. It is important not to forget that the colonies voted to declare Independence on July 2nd, signed the document July 4th, and then formally gained independence on September 3rd, 1783. We shouldn’t forget those hard-won battles between 1776 and 1783 in which the freedom that was declared on the 2nd and signed on the 4th was officially won.
“I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.” – “Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Smith Adams, February 22, 1787” in regard to Shays’ rebellion.
FACT: On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five,” consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration. A young Thomas Jefferson (only 33 at the time) was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (although he initially thought Adams should write the document). Jefferson’s draft and the text of the final copy harken back to John Locke and the principles of Liberalism (their influence being both obvious given the wording, and long known). Jefferson also drew inspiration for the declaration, like other founders did for the later Constitution and Bill of Rights, from the already in place Virginia Constitution (1771) and the newly created Virginia Bill of Right (1776).
The Difference Between Jefferson’s Draft and the Final Declaration of Independence
Below are the draft version and final version of the Declaration of Independence for comparison.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –”
– Thomas Jefferson (final version with edits on Jefferson’s original copy).
“We hold these truths to be [sacred and undeniable] selfevident, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and inalienables, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes: and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. but when a long train of abuses and usurpations, begun at a distinguished period, and pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to [subject] reduce them to arbitrary power, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –”
“…That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
FACT: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is often said to be one of the best-known sentences of the English Language. The wording was picked from John Locke’s Second Treaty of Government 1689 and 1689 English Declaration of Rights. These were influential documents in England’s Glorious Revolution of which Locke was a part. Most of America’s founding documents are taken from the Enlightenment’s political philosophers including, for example, Montesquieu’s separation of powers.