Editorial: History Worth Knowing

The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Editorial: History Worth Knowing


Recent polls and studies have shown an alarming number of Americans have scant knowledge of the history of this nation. That is not an affliction that can be cured in one day with a few hundred words, but Independence Day seems an appropriate time for a short primer on the birth of the United States of America and the reason for the celebrations all around us today.

July 4 is recognized as Independence Day because it was on that day in 1776 when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, largely written by Thomas Jefferson, declaring independence from Great Britain. Historians disagree on exactly when members of that congress signed the document -- some reported signing it on that day but many historians think it was actually signed on Aug. 2, 1776 -- but July 4 has ever since been recognized as Independence Day.

Independence wasn't won until years later with the final victory in the American Revolution, secured at Yorktown, Va., in October 1781. A peace treaty with Great Britain wasn't signed until 1983, however, and historians recognize 1775 to 1783 as the war years.

The document adopted July 4, 1776, after the first shots of the war had been fired, declared the independence of the 13 states (no longer colonies) from Great Britain and listed the reasons justifying the separation. It did so in language that suggested the tone of the Constitution that would be drafted years later.

The Declaration of Independence is too long to be printed here. But because this is a history lesson, we'll provide some of it, from the top:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. …

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