Most Americans celebrating the July 4 holiday today don’t fully realize that the power of ideas in the Declaration of Independence was the critical enabling factor for the Americans to win the War of Independence. Compared to the British professional military, the American colonial army was simply no match—it was undermanned, underfunded, underequipped, inexperienced, and undertrained. At the outset of the war, the British Royal Navy had 270 warships deployed in American waters, while the Continental Navy had seven ships.

On July 4, 1776, in what is now Manhattan, New York, Gen. George Washington was preparing for battle. He had no idea that a Declaration of Independence was being released in Philadelphia that day, as he pondered the sobering stream of British ships coming through the Narrows and anchoring off Staten Island in New York Harbor.

A month before, Washington had written a letter to his brother, saying: “We expect a very bloody summer of it in New York… If our cause is just, as I do most religiously believe it to be, the same Providence which in many instances appeared for us, will still go on to afford its aid.”

On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, it was also a somber day when those 56 members of the Continental Congress committed to signing the Declaration of Independence. Each knew that becoming a signatory put a death warrant on their heads for being a traitor to Great Britain.

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