Many Americans hold widely held misbeliefs about Independence Day, as they do with many other American holidays.. The acceptance of certain myths is almost as American as apple pie and fireworks. Over time a majority of the population comes to believe a falsehood, and then the falsehood only grows as it is told to future generations. Eventually, the truth becomes lost behind years of misinformation. While some of these myths are harmless, others can be dangerous when they are used to formulate or shape public policy. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “Ignorance and sound self-government could not exist together: the one destroyed the other.” So with no further ado, let us examine the top five myths surrounding the July 4th holiday.
Myth #1: Independence Day is on July 4th
The Continental Congress voted to make the American colonies independent on July 2nd, not July 4th. In his diary, John Adams wrote that July 2nd should be remembered with fireworks and celebrations. As for the Declaration of Independence, it was dated July 4, but not actually signed by all the delegates until August 2nd.
Myth #2: The Colonists were united in their cause
A good deal of the population were actually opposed to declaring independence. Even after the Revolutionary War began, Americans were split between “loyalists” who still kept their oath to the English Crown and “patriots” who joined the rebellion. Some historians have said that as much as 20% of the population were loyalists. According to John Adams’ rough estimation, the number of loyalists might have been 33% of the colonial population.
Myth #3: The Revolution was all about natural rights
Many of the revolutionaries were upset about a violation of basic rights. However, many also were upset about the taxes imposed on the colonies by the English. Others simply felt that they could make more money if they were free from British trade restrictions (the British strictly controlled trade among the colonies). The Declaration of Independence has a long list of complaints against the British King, only some of which were related to the violation of rights. Today there is split among historians, with many believing that the Revolutionary War was inspired more by greed than a true desire for sovereignty or natural rights. The best answer probably is that the colonists were a mixed bunch who had a plethora of motivations that inspired them to revolt against the British.
Myth #4: The founding documents of America were completely original
The birth of America did create a number of new concepts for government, but many of these ideas were, in fact, borrowed or outright stolen from European philosophers. The very idea of the natural rights of “life, liberty, and property,” or “the pursuit of happiness”, as Jefferson put it, came from English philosopher John Locke. Many parts of the Declaration of Independence are nearly carbon copies of the works of various English and French philosophers. The idea of separation of powers and “checks and balances”, which are central to the Constitution, came from the French philosopher Montesquieu.
Myth #5: America quickly succeeded after declaring independence
Ultimately, the colonists were victorious, but only after seven torturous years of war. During most of the war, George Washington’s army engaged in strategic retreat. The tide of the war only turned when the French supported the colonists with money and their powerful navy. Even after winning the war, the first governing document in America, the Articles of Confederation, failed miserably. The Articles created a weak central government, which left the United States without an army strong enough to put down a farmers’ rebellion in Massachusetts. The founding fathers admitted their mistake and years later convened in Philadelphia to write the current United States Constitution. Even after the Constitution was ratified, the British would, years later, march on Washington D.C. and burn the capitol. Once more, Americans found a way to defeat the British in the end, but not without a lot of pain and suffering along the way. In truth, the American experiment is a mosaic of failures and successes, rather than a simple story of triumph.