Might as well celebrate Independence Day everyday
Happy Independence Day. A day late you say? Not so fast. The Fourth of July might be the legally observed day of independence, but it is not the only day to fit the bill. In fact John Adams, remarked to his wife in a letter on July 3, 1776, that: “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”
Adams had just voted in a secret congressional meeting on July 2 to approve the wording on our much-hallowed Declaration of Independence. Two days later that same Congress ratified the document, and it wasn’t until Aug. 2 that the delegates began signing it. The last signatory was Thomas McKean, who didn’t sign it until he was president of the Continental Congress in 1781, ironically after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown — an event that effectively ended the war in everything but name.
While much is made of the Boston Tea Party on Dec. 16, 1773, in which agitators dumped British tea into Boston harbor, it was a series of taxes earlier in the century that actually began the unrest, taxes specifically targeting one purely colonial commodity — rum.
Sugar or molasses was imported from colonial holdings in the Caribbean and processed into rum throughout the American Northeast. The first rum distillery was built in 1664 on what is today New York’s Staten Island. Within 50 years the American colonies were the largest producers of rum in the world, as well as its largest consumer. It has been estimated that in the years before the Revolution the average intake of rum in the British Colonies was better than a liter of rum a month for every man, woman and child in those colonies. In 1733 the British Parliament, in an attempt to discourage the importation of foreign goods (those from French or Dutch colonies) and instead of outlawing them outright, introduced a tax on them, expecting that colonists would instead opt for cheaper British colonial goods. The prime targeted good was molasses, but what Parliament got instead was wholesale refusal to abide by the law. Taxes were not collected and a whole industry designed to circumvent the system came into being.
In 1664 when the original Molasses Act was set to expire, and with looming debt from the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Parliament decided to half the percentage on the tax and increase its enforcement. The new Sugar Act came into being. The idea that a parliamentary body based in Britain could impose taxes on subjects outside of its constituency gave rise to a new slogan: “No taxation without representation.”
The act was repealed two years later, but the slogan remained. By the time the Tea Act rolled around in 1773, the colonists had enough. Even though the Tea Act actually reduced the cost of British tea, it also tacitly endorsed the right of the Crown to tax its colonial subjects without their consent. It is for that reason that those famous agitators threw the tea into Boston harbor, an act that ultimately resulted in the drafting, signing and ratification of the Declaration of Independence, beginning on July 2, 1776 and ending sometime around 1781.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress and first signatory of the Declaration of Independence was at the time, the richest man in the colonies. Much of his wealth came from the rum trade.
• Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence (with help), created the concept of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by merging concepts from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government — “life, liberty and estate” with “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness.”
• Within 50 years of the Revolutionary War a new spirit took hold in the new United States. That undeniably American spirit was whiskey, both bourbon and rye.
• After most of the delegates signed the Declaration of Independence, British forces moved on Philadelphia, forcing the Second Continental Congress to relocate to Baltimore, where it took up residence for two months in a former tavern owned by Henry Fite.
• The members of that first Tea Party disguised themselves as Native Americans, partly to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Just saying.
• Meanwhile the tea owner, the British East India Co., was bailed out by the British Crown as being “too big to fail.” A notion also still with us today.