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  • Joe Kear

Independence Day? What is America's Birthday?

I have put together some dates of importance to the founding of the U.S.




The Declaration of Rights (1774),

The Declaration of The Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775),

The Resolution of Independence (1776),

The Declaration of Independence (1776),

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (1777), and

The First Day of Government under the U.S. Constitution (1789).

December 16, 1773

BOSTON TEA PARTY. A protest of taxation without representation, it was in the interests of importers of illegal Dutch tea such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who were competing with the monopoly granted the East India Tea Company. Under the Tea Act passed by Parliament and receiving Royal consent on May 10, 1773, the East India Tea Company was allowed to import directly to the colonies at much lower prices. Illegal importers no longer held a competitive advantage. Additionally the East India Company was adding the import duty on tea that the Colonists found objectionable as a tax imposed without representation. Colonists in New York and Philadelphia refused to unload the Company’s tea and in Charleston it was left to rot, but the willful destruction in Boston (boarding ships and throwing the tea overboard) drew the attention of Parliament. Britain responds with the Coercive Acts of 1774. On March 25, 1774 Parliament passes the Boston Port Act, closing the Port of Boston until reparations are paid. On May 20, 1774 it passes the Massachusetts Government Act, severely restricting self-government in abrogation of the Massachusetts Charter.

September 5, 1774

FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS CONVENES. Convening to protest the Coercive Acts, the Congress organizes boycotts and petitions for redress to the Crown. Peyton Randolph is President, Charles Thomson is Secretary. The Congress meets in Philadelphia at the Carpenters’ Hall until October 26, 1774. It specified that a Second Continental Congress would meet on May 10, 1775, to plan further responses if the British government would not repeal or modify the Coercive Acts.

October 7, 1774

MASSACHUSETTS PROVINCIAL CONGRESS CONVENES. In defiance of British authority and the Massachusetts Government Act, it exercises control of all Massachusetts outside of Boston. John Hancock is President.

October 14, 1774

DECLARATION OF RIGHTS. The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress is also known as the Declaration of Colonial Rights, or the Declaration of Rights. It outlined the objections to the Intolerable Acts, listed a colonial bill of rights and provided a detailed list of grievances for a petition to the King. It also outlined the formation of the Continental Association for implementing the trade boycott with Britain. After the publication of the Declaration, opinion began to expand beyond wanting rights restored by the crown, to thoughts of becoming separate from Britain.

December 1, 1774

BOYCOTT OF BRITISH GOODS BEGINS. Imports from Britain dropped by 97 percent in 1775.

April 19, 1775

BATTLES OF LEXINGTON AND CONCORD. Provincial militias defeat the British.

May 10, 1775

SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS CONVENES. Meeting at Philadelphia's State House, Charles Thomson is again Secretary. Peyton Randolph is again President until May 24 when John Hancock becomes President.

June 14, 1775

CONGRESS ESTABLISHES THE CONTINENTAL ARMY, to coordinate the militia units around Boston. On June 15, George Washington is appointed to become the commanding general.

July 3, 1775


July 6, 1775

DECLARATION OF THE CAUSES AND NECESSITY OF TAKING UP ARMS. The Continental Congress adapts the declaration written by John Dickinson from a draft by Thomas Jefferson. It outlines the many grievances that were ignored by the Crown including taxation without representation and the Coercive Acts. It explains the necessity of taking up arms in defense of freedom, to protect the colonists’ rights in the face of arriving British forces.

March 17, 1776

BRITISH EVACUATE BOSTON. Celebrated as Evacuation Day.

May 10, 1776

CONGRESS PASSES MAY 10 RESOLUTION. The resolution recommends that any colony with a government that was not inclined toward independence should form one that is. Local citizens are pressing their governments to support independence (see footnote 1).

May 15, 1776

PREAMBLE BY JOHN ADAMS. The May 10 resolution had declared the colonies should establish governments conduciveto the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.” Congress passes Adams’ preamble which further states that since King George had by act of Parliament “excluded the Inhabitants of these united Colonies from the Protection of his Crown and the whole Force of the Kingdom, aided by foreign Mercenaries, is to be exerted for our Destruction,” the colonies were free to establish their own governments.

June 7, 1776

LEE RESOLUTION. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduces his resolution for independence and the Continental Congress approves work by three committees: a committee of five for declaring independence, a committee of five on preparing a plan for treaties to create foreign alliances, and a committee of thirteen on preparing a plan for confederation. The vote declaring independence was to be held on July 1.

June 28, 1776

COMMITTEE OF FIVE presents its draft Declaration of Independence to Congress.

July 1, 1776

DEBATE ON THE LEE RESOLUTION resumed with a majority in favor of independence (South Carolina and Pennsylvania were in opposition and Delaware’s delegation was split.) Wishing unanimity, the vote was postponed until July 2.

July 2, 1776

RESOLUTION OF INDEPENDENCE. On July 2, 1776 Congress passes the first of three parts of the Lee Resolution, known as the Resolution of Independence. It passes with no opposition (12 colonies in favor while New York abstained). It was the formal measure by which Congress severed ties to the Crown and asserted independence. News of independence spreads rapidly. The Resolution of Independence reads:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. (Adopted July 2, 1776)

It was incorporated verbatim in the forthcoming Declaration of Independence, which was not yet ready.

July 3, 1776

CONGRESS AMENDS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Discussion of the third reading of the Declaration results in two amendments: removing a reference critical of British citizens, and removing a reference denouncing Britain for having promoted slave trade and slavery.

July 4, 1776

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE ADOPTED. Written by the committee of five (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston) but primarily Thomas Jefferson. The first published version listed only signatures by Continental Congress President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson. New York’s Provincial Congress approved independence on July 9 after its delegation had abstained on July 2. On July 19, the Continental Congress commissioned a written version of the Declaration for which signatures would be added, mainly at the signing August 2, 1776. The Declaration famously states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

This was justification for independence, but for some it was a declaration of universal rights (See footnote 2). Of course the rights weren’t truly intended as universal. The July 3rd vote stripped the Declaration of its complaint that the Crown imposed slavery on the colonies, but it still included a complaint that the Crown fomented insurrections by the oppressed slaves: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us…”

As well, it complained that the Crown had promoted the interests of Native Americans: “and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

July 12, 1776

COMMITTEE OF THIRTEEN PRESENTS INITIAL PLANS FOR CONFEDERATION. This begins a long debate and final plans weren’t drafted until the following summer.

August 2, 1776


June 14, 1777

CONGRESS ADOPTS THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES. On this date Congress passes the resolution, “That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars,white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Intended to be a naval ensign, Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a naval flag designer and future signer of the Declaration of Independence of Independence, designed the flag sometime between his appointment as the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department and the passage of this resolution.

November 15, 1777

THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION AND PERPETUAL UNION. The Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation on this date and submits them to the states for ratification.

December 20, 1777

UNITED STATES RECEIVES RECOGNITION. The Kingdom of Morocco is the first country to recognize the United States of America as a sovereign nation. France follows with recognition on February 6, 1778.

June 18, 1778


March 1, 1781

ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION RATIFIED. After the Maryland delegation signs on this date, the Continental Congress confirms the ratification by all thirteen colonies of the new Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, and thus Congress becomes the Congress of the Confederation. Formally it is referred to as United States in Congress Assembled while also still referring to itself as the Continental Congress. Samuel Huntington, President of the Continental Congress, continued as President for four more months under the Articles of Confederation. He was followed that first year by Thomas McKean and then John Hanson. The thirteen-member Committee of the States held the real executive power, appointing the Secretary of War and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

October 19, 1781


February 27, 1782

HOUSE OF COMMONS VOTES TO END WAR IN AMERICA. Then on March 2, 1782, General Henry Clinton is replaced by General Guy Carleton as commander of the British forces in America and Carleton arrives in New York City in May, to end offensive operations.

August 27, 1782

BRITISH FIGHT LAST BATTLES IN AMERICA. One of the last skirmishes with British forces is on the Combahee River in South Carolina on August 27.

November 30, 1782.

PRELIMINARY PEACE ARTICLES SIGNED. Signed in Paris by John Jay, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

December 14, 1782


February 4, 1783


April 11, 1783.


April 15, 1783


September 3, 1783.

TREATY OF PARIS SIGNED. British recognize independence for the United States.

November 25, 1783

LAST BRITISH FORCES LEAVE NEW YORK CITY. General George Washington enters the city.

January 14, 1784


April 4, 1784


September 11, 1786

ANNAPOLIS CONVENTION. Convened as the Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government and lasting September 11 through 14. Nine states had appointed commissioners but only five sent their representatives in time. The final report, calling for a broader constitutional convention to be held the following May in Philadelphia, was sent to the Congress and to the states.

February 21, 1787

CONGRESS CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. On this date the Congress of the Confederation issued its call for a constitutional convention, to be held in May, “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union."

May 25, 1787

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. George Washington is President. The Convention meets from May 25 through September 17 and drafts the Constiution.

September 17, 1787

CONSTITUTION SUBMITTED TO CONGRESS. On this date, following a speech by Benjamin Franklin, the Constitution was submitted to the Congress of the Confederation.

September 28, 1787

CONSTITUTION SUBMITTED TO THE STATES. On this date, the Congress of the Confederation resolved "unanimously" to submit the Constitution to the States for ratification.

June 21, 1788

RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION. Per Article VII, nine states were needed for ratification and on June 21, 1788; New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document. (Nine was a previously established threshold under the Articles of Confederation. Nine had been the number of states required to act when Congress wasn’t in session. But the Articles of Confederation also required the legislatures of all states to confirm alteration of the Articles after a vote of Congress. It wasn’t until May 29, 1790 that Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution.)

September 13, 1788

RESOLUTION TO IMPLEMENT THE CONSTITUTION. Congress of the Confederation adopts a resolution to put the new Constitution into operation beginning March 4, 1789, with eleven states having ratified. Election of the Presidential electors is set for January 7, 1789, and the election by them of the President is set for February 4, 1789. New York will remain the national capital. The Congress of the Confederation holds its last session with a quorum present on October 10, 1788.

March 4, 1789

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES BEGINS. On March 2, 1789 the Congress of the Confederation dissolved itself sine die and the first session of the Congress of the United States begins on March 4, 1789, being the first day of government under the new Constitution.

April 30, 1789.

GEORGE WASHINGTON IS INAUGURATED. George Washington is sworn in as President at Federal Hall in New York City.


1) The Declaration of Independence was written by wealthy white men, but the impetus for independence came from ordinary Americans. By July 2, 1776, when the Continental Congress passed the Resolution of Independence to separate from Britain, 90 provincial and local bodies – conventions, town meetings and even grand juries – had already issued their own declarations or instructed Congress to.

In Maryland, county conventions demanded that the provincial convention tell Maryland's congressmen to support independence. Pennsylvania assemblymen required their congressional delegates to oppose independence – until Philadelphians gathered outside the State House, later named Independence Hall, and threatened to overthrow the legislature, which then dropped this instruction.

2) Lemuel Haynes, a free African American soldier serving in the Continental Army, had drafted an essay in 1776 called “Liberty Further Extended." He opened by quoting Jefferson's truisms “that all men are created equal" and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." By highlighting these claims, Haynes began the process of shifting the focus and meaning of the Declaration of Independence from Congress' ordinance of secession to a universal declaration of human rights. This work went unpublished but Haynes had many writings that were later published.

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