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July 4 and Declaration of Independence
Part of a Global War and Owed to Others
Patriotic events are usually simplified and reframed to serve the purpose of making citizens feel more patriotic. The Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution follow the pattern in spades, impressed upon the American people in a definite description so that any modification of the accepted history is obscured. Some things cannot be questioned.
There is another history to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, which doesn’t reduce the impact of the doctrine and the struggle and doesn’t separate them from the words liberty, freedom, and independence. Here it is, an interesting story.
The Treaty of Paris 1763 ended the French and Indian War, which was a Seven Years’ War on the continent and part of a global war between Great Britain and France and their allies. The Treaty awarded Great Britain the colonial territories, but it did not end the conflict between Great Britain and the allied French and Spanish coalition. Unsettled issues from the Seven Years War eventually led the colonists to demand more independence from the crown, and their battle became part of a global war.
A 2018 exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recognized “how the 18th-century fight for independence fit into a larger, international conflict that involved Great Britain, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Jamaica, Gibraltar and even India.” The American Revolution became another battlefront in a huge Global War, which was fought more at sea than on land. “Both France and Spain, to undermine British power, provided both arms and troops to the rambunctious rebels. The Dutch Republic, too, traded weapons and other goods to the American colonists.”
The Declaration of Independence contains inspiring words of liberty, freedom, and equality, but it was not initially prepared for that purpose; its purpose was more pragmatic. To have other governments assist them, the revolutionists had to organize themselves as an independent nation.
By issuing the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies severed their political connections to Great Britain. The Declaration summarized the colonists’ motivations for seeking independence. By declaring themselves an independent nation, the American colonists were able to confirm an official alliance with the Government of France and obtain French assistance in the war against Great Britain.”
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Marquis de Lafayette and French soldiers came to the aid of the Revolutionists. The military contributions of France and Spain to the success of the American Revolution have not been adequately described. The Philadelphia Museum of the American Revolution fills the gap.
France helped make the victory of the United States possible. Continental soldiers used French weapons and wore French-made uniforms and, by the end of the war, they fought alongside French soldiers. The French army and navy battled the British all over the world, from Asia and Africa to the Caribbean, which stretched the capabilities of the British war effort in America. A number of Revolutionary War battles didn’t even include Americans – the last battle of the war occurred when British and French ships clashed off the coast of India in 1783.
Along with their military support, Spain supplied the Revolutionaries with desperately needed arms, blankets, shoes, and currency. By far the most famous Spanish figure in the American Revolutionary War was Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez, a Spanish military officer and governor of Spanish Louisiana who orchestrated a series of victories against British forces along the Gulf Coast. Other Spanish imperial administrators, like Francisco Saavedra de Sangronis, contributed support for the Revolutionary cause, and at sea, naval commanders like Admiral Luis de Córdova damaged British shipping.
Galvez is the only Spanish figure from the American Revolutionary to give his name to an American city. How many know that Galveston, Texas is named after the Spanish General?
The final battle of the American Revolution, the battle of Yorktown, where British General Cornwallis surrendered, was mainly a French victory. Yorktown Battlefield supplies the information.
In Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola, De Grasse loaded 3000 French troops from the Gatinais, Agenois and Touraine infantry regiments aboard his ships. He also raised 1.2 million livres (worth approximately 6 million US dollars today) in Havana, Cuba from the local government, banks and citizens to assist the American and French armies in America. On August 5, De Grasse set sail with his fleet of 37 ships including 28 ships-of-the-line, (large battleships), 7 frigates and 2 cutters, headed to the Chesapeake Bay. Four days later, the French fleet arrived at the Bay, anchored and began off loading French troops near Jamestown to join the army of General Lafayette at Williamsburg, 12 miles from Yorktown.
The British fleet turned for the Chesapeake Bay the evening of the 10th, arriving outside the bay on September 13. (British admiral) Graves realized his fleet was in no condition to take on so many French ships. He sailed his fleet to New York, leaving the French in control of the Chesapeake Bay. That same day, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
The success of the French fleet in gaining control of the Chesapeake Bay prevented Cornwallis from receiving reinforcements and helped ensure that Washington could use the bay to transport troops and supplies to Yorktown. Without De Grasse's fleet gaining control of the Chesapeake Bay from the British, victory by the American and French armies at Yorktown would have been impossible. Without the French victory at the Battle of the Capes, American independence from Great Britain might never have been achieved.
Cornwallis’s second in command, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara (1740–1802), first attempted to surrender his sword to (French General) Rochambeau. Understanding this as an insult to an American army fighting for the recognition of its nation’s independence, Rochambeau pointed toward Washington. But the Continental commander-in-chief also refused O’Hara’s sword, directing instead that it be given to Major General Benjamin Lincoln (1733–1810), his own second in command. When Lincoln accepted O’Hara’s sword, young America reinforced its equality among nations on the world’s stage.
Understandably, every nation needs patriotic celebrations to maintain solidarity, unification, and dedication. No need or intention to undermine that thrust for identity. Overlooked is that principles and objectives that move people can often do more to hold them together than embellishing their history and giving them a false appearance. In a world of honest conviction, recognizing the contributions of others to the successful development of the nation is noteworthy and an enhancement of the eloquent expressions from the Declaration of Independence.