This week’s Time Travel Tuesday fell on the fourth of July so we’re posting up some of the important moments in American history that happened on this day in the past.
1776 – American Revolution: The United States Declaration of Independence is adopted by the Second Continental Congress.
The Declaration of Independence is the statement adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer under British rule. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America. John Adams was a leader in pushing for independence, which was passed on July 2 with no opposing vote cast. A committee of five had already drafted the formal declaration, to be ready when Congress voted on independence. The term “Declaration of Independence” is not used in the document itself.
John Adams persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which Congress would edit to produce the final version. The Declaration was ultimately a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The next day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” But Independence Day is actually celebrated on July 4, the date that the Declaration of Independence was approved.
After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as the printed Dunlap broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The source copy used for this printing has been lost, and may have been a copy in Thomas Jefferson’s hand. Jefferson’s original draft, complete with changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and Jefferson’s notes of changes made by Congress, are preserved at the Library of Congress. The best known version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is popularly regarded as the official document, is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. This engrossed copy was ordered by Congress on July 19, and signed primarily on August 2.
The sources and interpretation of the Declaration have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, references to the text of the Declaration were few in the following years. Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric (as in the Gettysburg Address of 1863), and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
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.
This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language”, containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history”. The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy, and argued that the Declaration is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
The United States Declaration of Independence inspired many other similar documents in other countries, with its ideas gaining adherence in the Low Countries, as well as in the Caribbean, Spanish America, the Balkans, West Africa, and Central Europe in the decades up to 1848.
1802 – At West Point, New York, the United States Military Academy opens.
The United States Military Academy (USMA), also known as West Point, Army, The Academy, or simply The Point, is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located in West Point, New York in Orange County. It was originally established as a fort that sits on strategic high ground overlooking the Hudson River with a scenic view, 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City. It is one of the four U.S. military service academies, and one of the five U.S. service academies.
The Academy traces its roots to 1801, when President Thomas Jefferson directed, shortly after his inauguration, that plans be set in motion to establish the United States Military Academy at West Point. The entire central campus is a national landmark and home to scores of historic sites, buildings, and monuments. The majority of the campus’s Norman-style buildings are constructed from gray and black granite. The campus is a popular tourist destination complete with a large visitor center and the oldest museum in the United States Army.
1803 – The Louisiana Purchase is announced to the American people.
The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane “Sale of Louisiana”) was the acquisition of the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles = 2.14 million km²) by the United States from France in 1803. The U.S. paid fifty million francs ($11,250,000 USD) and a cancellation of debts worth eighteen million francs ($3,750,000 USD) for a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15,000,000 USD, or around a quarter of a billion in 2016 dollars). The Louisiana territory included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The territory contained land that forms Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the portion of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River; a large portion of North Dakota; a large portion of South Dakota; the northeastern section of New Mexico; the northern portion of Texas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River (plus New Orleans); and small portions of land within the present Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its non-native population was around 60,000 inhabitants, of whom half were African slaves.
The Kingdom of France controlled the Louisiana territory from 1699 until it was ceded to Spain in 1762. Napoleon in 1800, hoping to re-establish an empire in North America, regained ownership of Louisiana. However, France’s failure to put down the revolt in Saint-Domingue, coupled with the prospect of renewed warfare with the United Kingdom, prompted Napoleon to sell Louisiana to the United States. The Americans originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands, but quickly accepted the bargain. The Louisiana Purchase occurred during the term of the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced Federalist Party opposition; they argued that it was unconstitutional to acquire any territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain explicit provisions for acquiring territory, but he asserted that his constitutional power to negotiate treaties was sufficient.
1817 – In Rome, New York, construction on the Erie Canal begins.
The Erie Canal is a canal in New York that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). Originally, it ran about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.
First proposed in the 1780s, then re-proposed in 1807, a survey was authorized, funded, and executed in 1808. Proponents of the project gradually wore down opponents; its construction began in 1817. The canal has 35 numbered locks, plus the Federal Black Rock Lock, and an elevation differential of about 565 feet (172 m). It opened on October 26, 1825.
In a time when bulk goods were limited to pack animals (an eighth-ton [250 pounds (113 kg)] maximum), and there were no railways, water was the most cost-effective way to ship bulk goods.
The canal, denigrated by its political opponents as “Clinton’s Folly” or “Clinton’s Big Ditch”, was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage.
It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York and opened regions farther west to settlement. It was enlarged between 1834 and 1862. The canal’s peak year was 1855, when 33,000 commercial shipments took place. In 1918, the western part of the canal was enlarged to become part of the New York State Barge Canal, which ran parallel to the eastern half of the Erie Canal, and extended to the Hudson River.
In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America. Mainly used by recreational watercraft since the retirement of the last large commercial ship, the Day Peckinpaugh in 1994, the canal saw a recovery in commercial traffic in 2008.
1826 – Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, dies the same day as John Adams, second president of the United States, on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence.
During the last hours of his life, he was accompanied by family members and friends. On July 4 at 12:50 p.m., Jefferson died at age 83 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and just a few hours before the death of John Adams. When Adams died, his last words included an acknowledgement of his longtime friend and rival: “Thomas Jefferson survives”, though Adams was unaware that Jefferson had died several hours before. The sitting president was Adams’ son John Quincy, and he called the coincidence of their deaths on the nation’s anniversary “visible and palpable remarks of Divine Favor”.
Shortly after Jefferson had died, attendants found a gold locket on a chain around his neck, where it had rested for more than forty years, containing a small faded blue ribbon which tied a lock of his wife Martha’s brown hair.
Jefferson’s remains were buried at Monticello, under a self-written epitaph:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.
1827 – Slavery is abolished in New York State.
Both the Dutch and the British imported African slaves as laborers to the city and colony; New York had the second-highest population of slaves after Charleston, South Carolina. Slavery was extensive in New York City and some agricultural areas. The state passed a law for the gradual abolition of slavery soon after the Revolutionary War, but the last slave in New York was not freed until 1827.
1831 – Samuel Francis Smith writes “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” for the Boston, Massachusetts July 4 festivities.
“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, also known as “America”, is an American patriotic song, whose lyrics were written by Samuel Francis Smith. The melody used is the same as that of the national anthem of the United Kingdom, “God Save the Queen”, arranged by Thomas Arne. The song served as one of the de facto national anthems of the United States (along with songs like “Hail, Columbia”) before the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the official anthem in 1931.
1855 – The first edition of Walt Whitman’s book of poems, Leaves of Grass, is published In Brooklyn.
Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Although the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first a small book of twelve poems and the last a compilation of over 400.
The poems of Leaves of Grass are loosely connected, with each representing Whitman’s celebration of his philosophy of life and humanity. This book is notable for its discussion of delight in sensual pleasures during a time when such candid displays were considered immoral. Where much previous poetry, especially English, relied on symbolism, allegory, and meditation on the religious and spiritual, Leaves of Grass (particularly the first edition) exalted the body and the material world. Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman’s poetry praises nature and the individual human’s role in it. However, much like Emerson, Whitman does not diminish the role of the mind or the spirit; rather, he elevates the human form and the human mind, deeming both worthy of poetic praise.
1863 – American Civil War: The Army of Northern Virginia withdraws from the battlefield after losing the Battle of Gettysburg, signaling an end to the Southern invasion of the North.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee’s attempt to invade the North.
1881 – In Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute opens.
Tuskegee University is a private, historically black university (HBCU) located in Tuskegee, Alabama, United States. It was established by Booker T. Washington. The campus is designated as the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site by the National Park Service and is the only one in the U.S. to have this designation. The university was home to scientist George Washington Carver and to World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen.
Tuskegee University offers 40 bachelor’s degree programs, 17 master’s degree programs, a 5-year accredited professional degree program in architecture, 4 doctoral degree programs, and the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. The university is home to over 3,100 students from the U.S. and 30 foreign countries. Tuskegee University was ranked among 2015’s best 379 colleges and universities by The Princeton Review and 5th among the 2015 U.S. News & World Report best HBCUs.
The university’s campus was designed by architect Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1886 – The people of France offer the Statue of Liberty to the people of the United States.
The Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde) is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States. The copper statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel.
1913 – President Woodrow Wilson addresses American Civil War veterans at the Great Reunion of 1913.
The 1913 Gettysburg reunion was a Gettysburg Battlefield encampment of American Civil War veterans for the Battle of Gettysburg’s 50th anniversary. The June 29–July 4 gathering of 53,407 veterans (~8,750 Confederate) was the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion, and “never before in the world’s history [had] so great a number of men so advanced in years been assembled under field conditions” (Chief Surgeon). All honorably discharged veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic and the United Confederate Veterans were invited, and veterans from 46 of the 48 states attended. Despite concerns “that there might be unpleasant differences, at least, between the blue and gray” (as after England’s War of the Roses and the French Revolution), the peaceful reunion was repeatedly marked by events of Union–Confederate camaraderie. President Woodrow Wilson’s July 4 reunion address summarized the spirit: “We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor.”
1960 – Due to the post-Independence Day admission of Hawaii as the 50th U.S. state on August 21, 1959, the 50-star flag of the United States debuts in Philadelphia, almost ten and a half months later.
The current design of the U.S. flag is its 27th; the design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by the then president Eisenhower on August 21, 1959, and was adopted in July 1960. It is the longest-used version of the U.S. flag and has been in use for over 56 years.
1966 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act into United States law. The act went into effect the next year.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute. This amendment was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, despite his misgivings, on July 4, 1966, and went into effect the following year.
As indicated by its long title, FOIA was actually extracted from its original home in Section 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Section 3 of the APA, as enacted in 1946, gave agencies broad discretion concerning the publication of governmental records. Following concerns that the provision had become more of a withholding than a disclosure mechanism, Congress amended the section in 1966 as a standalone act to implement “a general philosophy of full agency disclosure.” The amendment required agencies to publish their rules of procedure in the Federal Register, 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(1)(C), and to make available for public inspection and copying their opinions, statements of policy, interpretations, and staff manuals and instructions that are not published in the Federal Register, § 552(a)(2). In addition, § 522(a)(3) requires every agency, “upon any request for records which … reasonably describes such records” to make such records “promptly available to any person.” If an agency improperly withholds any documents, the district court has jurisdiction to order their production. Unlike the review of other agency action that must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary or capricious, FOIA expressly places the burden “on the agency to sustain its action,” and directs the district courts to “determine the matter de novo.”
1997 – NASA’s Pathfinder space probe lands on the surface of Mars.
Mars Pathfinder (MESUR Pathfinder) is an American robotic spacecraft that landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars in 1997. It consisted of a lander, renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, and a lightweight (10.6 kg/23 lb) wheeled robotic Mars rover named Sojourner, which became the first rover to operate outside the Earth–Moon system.
Launched on December 4, 1996 by NASA aboard a Delta II booster a month after the Mars Global Surveyor was launched, it landed on July 4, 1997 on Mars’s Ares Vallis, in a region called Chryse Planitia in the Oxia Palus quadrangle. The lander then opened, exposing the rover which conducted many experiments on the Martian surface. The mission carried a series of scientific instruments to analyze the Martian atmosphere, climate, geology and the composition of its rocks and soil. It was the second project from NASA’s Discovery Program, which promotes the use of low-cost spacecraft and frequent launches under the motto “cheaper, faster and better” promoted by the then administrator, Daniel Goldin. The mission was directed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology, responsible for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The project manager was JPL’s Tony Spear.
This mission was the first of a series of missions to Mars that included rovers, and was the first successful lander since the two Vikings landed on the red planet in 1976. Although the Soviet Union successfully sent rovers to the Moon as part of the Lunokhod program in the 1970s, its attempts to use rovers in its Mars program failed.
In addition to scientific objectives, the Mars Pathfinder mission was also a “proof-of-concept” for various technologies, such as airbag-mediated touchdown and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rover mission. The Mars Pathfinder was also remarkable for its extremely low cost relative to other unmanned space missions to Mars. Originally, the mission was conceived as the first of the Mars Environmental Survey (MESUR) program.
2004 – The cornerstone of the Freedom Tower is laid on the World Trade Center site in New York City.
One World Trade Center (also known as 1 World Trade Center, 1 WTC or Freedom Tower) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, New York City. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest in the world. The supertall structure has the same name as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center, which was completely destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The new skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre (6.5 ha) World Trade Center site, on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center. The building is bounded by West Street to the west, Vesey Street to the north, Fulton Street to the south, and Washington Street to the east.
2009 – The Statue of Liberty‘s crown reopens to the public after eight years of closure due to security concerns following the September 11 attacks.
Following the September 11 attacks, the statue and Liberty Island were immediately closed to the public. The island reopened at the end of 2001, while the pedestal and statue remained off-limits. The pedestal reopened in August 2004, but the National Park Service announced that visitors could not safely be given access to the statue due to the difficulty of evacuation in an emergency. The Park Service adhered to that position through the remainder of the Bush administration. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner made the statue’s reopening a personal crusade. On May 17, 2009, President Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that as a “special gift” to America, the statue would be reopened to the public as of July 4, but that only a limited number of people would be permitted to ascend to the crown each day.
Some notable Americans born on the Fourth of July
- 1804 – Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist and short story writer
- 1868 – Henrietta Swan Leavitt, American astronomer and academic
- 1872 – Calvin Coolidge, American lawyer and politician, 30th President of the United States
- 1883 – Rube Goldberg, American sculptor, cartoonist, and engineer
- 1898 – Pilar Barbosa, Puerto Rican-American historian and activist
- 1902 – George Murphy, American actor and politician
- 1910 – Robert K. Merton, American sociologist and scholar
- 1910 – Gloria Stuart, American actress
- 1926 – Lake Underwood, American race car driver and businessman
- 1927 – Neil Simon, American playwright and screenwriter
- 1929 – Al Davis, American football player, coach, and manager
- 1934 – Yvonne B. Miller, American academic and politician
- 1938 – Bill Withers, American singer-songwriter and producer
- 1946 – Ron Kovic, American author and activist
- 1974 – Jill Craybas, American tennis player
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