Although the United States didn't spend Saturday at barbecues or pack together like sardines to watch fireworks this year, our American Independence is worth celebrating, even with modified festivities.
On July 4, 1776, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was printed. The Continental Congress had actually voted in favor of the resolution two days earlier, on July 2. On July 3, John Adams wrote this 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."
He was a couple of days off, but otherwise the great statesman and later U.S. president pretty much guessed it.
In 1776, there were about 2.5 million people living in the Thirteen Colonies. A small handful of representatives spent months considering the right language for the Declaration, voted on its approval and signed their names to its testimony. The rest of the colonies' inhabitants gradually found out about the Declaration thanks to newspapers.
The Pennsylvania Evening Post announced July 2 that the Congress had declared independence, and the newspaper printed the text of the Declaration in its July 6 edition. The news spread to New York within a few days and didn't make its way to South Carolina papers until Aug. 2.
At this point in American history, colonialists were already used to counting on newspapers to deliver essential information about their government and its operations. When British Parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765, newspapers informed the public about the new law that meant almost all paper in the colonies was heavily taxed. Objection to the tax lead to patriots' accusation of "taxation without representation," which became a rallying cry for the Revolution that would follow.
Private newspaper networks began to emerge, providing a platform for colonialists to organize in opposition to the actions of their cross-Atlantic overlords. By the time Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense in early 1776, newspapers were so widely read that it made sense for publishers to reprint the pamphlet, allowing it to reach a wide audience throughout the colonies. Paine's call for separation from British rule paved the way for the Declaration of Independence a few months later.
Perhaps the essential role of newspapers in the American Revolution was on James Madison's mind as he drafted the Bill of Rights, which guarantees freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Because of that clause, American newspapers have enjoyed freedom since 1791. More than 200 years later, this same protection allows The Globe to publish accounts of candidates' viewpoints to help folks prepare for elections; details of controversies in councils and commissions; and letters to the editor calling for action from government officials.
I am grateful to have a professional heritage of patriots working for the people. I'm glad to call home a nation where the press doesn't fear its government. Happy Independence Day.