Is the Fourth of July Really "Independence Day"?

We Americans all celebrate the Fourth of July, but how many of us take the time to consider the real events the holiday does or does not commemorate?

Here are two reasons the Fourth of July may not really be our "Independence Day":
  1. July 4th 1776 is not actually the day Americans declared the United States independent.
  2. The day that the independence of the United States was declared seems much less important than when the United States became independent—that is, the day Americans truly secured their independence, rather than just declaring it.
First, let's just get the facts straight: The American Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2nd, 1776. Yes, the Founding Fathers of the U.S. officially decided that they wanted an independent country on July 2nd. July 4th was only the date when the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence as an official statement. We Americans may love the Declaration of Independence as a document, but we have to be honest about what we're celebrating: Did we want to celebrate the day our country's forefathers actually declared their independence, or the day they adopted the specific words they wanted to use to make their position known?

Second, regardless of whether you choose July 2nd or 4th, should that day really be called our "Independence Day" anyway? I'd argue no. The United States was not a functional, free, and independent country at any time until several years after 1776; Americans were embroiled in war! They were fighting to gain and secure their independence, and there was no guarantee they'd win. In fact, there were many reasons to believe the American rebels would lose. After all, they were up against what was probably the mightiest military in the world at the time, and many American colonists were still loyal to the Crown throughout the war.

What day truly represents the moment when the United States was independent, then? I'd say we have to choose September 3rd, 1783—the day that British and American representatives signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war and granted the United States Britain's official recognition as an independent country. The first article of the treaty is as follows:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.
That may not sound as inspiring or poetic as the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, but in terms of what they meant for America's future, they may well have been a lot more powerful. The Declaration of Independence articulated a group of rebels' reasons for revolt; the Treaty of Paris gave a nation its full liberty as its former ruler forever conceded any claim to those lands.

No doubt, the Fourth of July will continue to be our national celebration day, but when September 3rd rolls around, be sure to remember all the events that truly gave our nation its independence.