31 Days of History: 4 July

This should come as no surprise.

The United States Declaration of Independence was ratified (adopted) by the Continental Congress on 4 July 1776 (233 years ago today). It proclaimed that the thirteen American colonies were now independent states, and thus no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, it was adopted more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

The Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Written by Jefferson between 11 June and 28 June 1776, the Declaration of Independence is one of our nation's most cherished symbols of liberty. The Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted to declare independence from Great Britain; it sets forth a list of grievances against the King to justify the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.

The National Archives took possession of the original Declaration in 1952, and the document, along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, are now on permanent display in the "Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom", just off of Constitution Avenue. The original Declaration is has faded badly-largely because of poor preservation techniques during the 19th century-but you can still glimpse a piece of history when you are in town.

The National Archives

Inside the Rotunda

In an unrelated event, but one of my favorite 4 July stories--

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists received much assistance (financial and otherwise) from the French, who were sworn enemies of the British. One of the most notable French soldiers to serve in the American Revolution was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, or as he is known in America, the Marquis de Lafayette. He served with distinction with General George Washington and provided indispensable advice throughout the Revolutionary War.

The Marquis de Lafayette

General Washington and the Marquis at Valley Forge

Fast forward 136 years, to 1917. After remaining neutral for many years, the United States joined World War I and sent fresh troops to mainland France. The Army's First Division-about 14,500 strong-landed at the port of St. Nazaire in late June. They were under command of General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, who would command the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. (Astute readers will remember that it was Black Jack Pershing who awarded Stubby a medal after the war. Read about it here.)

General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing

The allied commanders had come to a full understanding of the deplorable state of morale for the French people and the French Army. The French Army was totally drained; the British Army had suffered several defeats and were on their knees. The AEF knew that the sight of the fresh American soldiers would have a bolstering effect; had anticipated it for months, in fact. For that reason, a grand reception was prepared in Paris.

On the Fourth of July 1917 (92 years ago today), part of the 16th Infantry Regiment entered Paris. The American military has a long memory when it comes to friends, enemies, and giving honor where honor is due. On that day, the Americans marched through Paris to the Marquis de Lafayette's tomb. Amidst the pomp and circumstance, Colonel Charles E. Stanton, on Pershing's staff, boldly declared, "Lafayette, we are here!"

American troops enter Paris

Pershing and the 16th Regiment pay honors to the Marquis de Lafayette

Pershing is buried in Section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery.

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