The Most Memorable Epocha in the History of America


Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, 1776

On July 3rd, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, as he would hundreds of times over the decades of his service to America. This day, he shared historic news:

“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.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not.—I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States.—Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.” 

John Adams

I find it touching to read the words of one who had been, and would continue to be, so intimately involved in the forming of our nation. His joy and enthusiasm for the potential of this country is an inspiration. He knew that the fight was only beginning and that it might not end with victory. If America lost its war for independence, Adams might forfeit his very life to a charge of treason alongside many of his friends. However, no whisper of the fears that he must have had is contained in the letter to his beloved wife, even as he recognizes that ‘it will cost Us.’

John may have been wrong about July 2nd, but he was correct about the birth of the United States being ‘the most memorable Epocha in the History of America’ and on the 4th ‘it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.’ Do we sometimes forget what it cost and just how much we have been blessed to inherit? We do, as do most generations who were not the ones to struggle and fight for something. Maybe John’s words can serve as a reminder as we prepare to celebrate everything that is wonderful about this historic republic.

So, how did John Adams get it wrong? Or is it the rest of us celebrating the wrong day?!

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

The Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence on 2 July 1776, approving a resolution proposed by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee. “That these United Colonies are, and of right to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” They met in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House (or Independence Hall as it is now known). However, congress still needed to approve of the specific declaration that would be sent to King George III. A committee had already been working on this document, and now it was presented to the full Continental Congress.

Assembly Room, Independence Hall

Over the next two days, the delegates read, edited, and debated the specific language contained within the Declaration of Independence that had been drafted by the committee composed of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, credited as the primary author, had already been through this nit-picking process with the committee and now had to endure it from the full congress. Some changes were made, but the committee had done its job well. On 4 July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by another vote of the Continental Congress, and that was the date printed at the top of the copies that were ordered for distribution. Those copies were sent forth and read aloud in cities across the Colonies.

After Abigail Adams heard the Declaration read in Boston on 18 July 1776, she wrote to John:

Abigail Adams

“Great attention was given to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona, was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull. Mr. Bowdoin then gave a Sentiment, Stability and perpetuity to American independance. After dinner the kings arms were taken down from the State House and every vestage of him from every place in which it appeard and burnt in King Street. Thus ends royall Authority in this State, and all the people shall say Amen.”

It was not until 2 August 1776 that the Declaration was signed by 50 (of the 56) members of congress, but I would not suggest our celebrations be held until that date! By the time our Founding Fathers were passing away, the 4th of July was accepted as the traditional day of celebration. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on 4 July 1826. In Jefferson’s last letter, he wrote, “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” Fifth president, James Monroe, also died on the 4th of July in 1831. When fourth president and primary author of the Constitution James Madison was dying in late June 1836, physicians offered to extend his life by stimulants to ensure that he also died on the historic date. Madison declined and died on 28 June.

This post is part of the American History Blog Hop by Historical Writers Forum – please check out many other great posts!