On July 4th, 1776 the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence. On this historic day, the Founders officially signed off on a document that would either signify the beginning of a new nation or become a convenient roll call for the hangman’s noose.
While this date is synonymous with American Independence, Twistification would like to offer five dates that rival the significance of July 4th, 1776. Without these events, July 4th would only stand out in history as a controversial day in which a pesky British colony launched a failed revolt against the mighty British Empire.
June 17th, 1775. The Battle of Bunker Hill
This battle was significant in two ways. First, the battle proved that Americans were capable of fighting British regulars and inflicting heavy casualties. Secondly, the impact of this battle dealt a powerful blow to British military psyche. General Clinton remarked in his diary that “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.” The battle planted a seed of doubt that influenced decision making. No British general wanted to suffer casualties like Bunker Hill again. Caution prevailed, and this caution allowed Washington to survive and regroup from a string of disastrous defeats early in the war.
October 7th, 1777, Burgoyne Defeated at Saratoga
This critical American victory (thanks in large part to the traitor Benedict Arnold) brought France officially into the war on the side of the Americans. This critical alliance expanded the war from a regional conflict to a global one and diluted essential British naval power. French supplies stabilized the American war effort and French naval power eventually allowed Washington to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.
No French alliance, no American Independence. Probably helpful to remember when someone smugly reminds a Frenchman of American assistance during WWI and WWII.
October 19th 1781, The Siege of Yorktown
After eight long years of war, the fate of the American colonies was still in question. The arrival of Rochambeau’s French fleet and the positioning of Cornwallis at Yorktown provided a brief opportunity for Washington to break the stalemate.
On October 19th, 1781 a joint expeditionary force of Continental and French soldiers converged at Yorktown to begin the siege. This was made possible by a critical French victory at sea that blocked British naval reinforcement. Adding to misfortune for Cornwallis, General Clinton sat on his hands and failed to reinforce him in time. These two events essentially sealed Cornwallis’s fate. This victory officially broke British political will and ended the war.
March 15th 1783, Washington Estinguishes a Military Coup d’état
Veterans of the Revolution were not receiving pay and justifiably felt abandoned by an ungrateful nation. Agitated to the point of military uprising, Continental officers called a meeting to discuss steps to take action against Congress.
As Horatio Gates called the meeting to order, an unexpected guest entered the room. To the surprise of all, General Washington asks to speak to the men. A hushed silence falls across the assembly as Washington takes the podium and delivers a passionate call for restraint now known as the Newburgh Address. At the conclusion of his speech, the retired General pauses to read a message from Congress. As he begins, Washington clumsily pulls out his reading glasses. “Gentlemen,” the legendary General declared “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”
Washington’s speech quelled the potential uprising and saved a fledgling Nation from a military coup.
September 17, 1787, The Constitution is Adopted
Endless commentary has been written about the Constitution, but it is just as important to understand the significance of the adoption of the Constitution during the early uncertain days of the Republic. The Constitution became the glue that bonded the States together and created a functional government that the Articles of Confederation had failed to do.
And it barely came into being.
The nation was close to falling into a loose assemblage of independent states when men like Madison and Hamilton essentially drug the Constitution to fruition by taking advantage of hastily gathered state conventions. The Constitution was made a realty by a series of essential compromises (including slavery) as well as support from respected Founding Fathers like Washington and Franklin. With the Constitution passed, America narrowly escaped a deadly biproduct of revolution–degeneration by infighting internal strife.