Today is Independence Day in the United States. We declared that to be true for the first time on July 4, 1776. But it really was not true in fact back then, it was simply a piece of paper, read in Philadelphia, and then secreted away just as quickly for to hold such a document was a treasonable act under English law. In truth, we were in the midst of a civil war no different from our own internal civil war of 1861 to 1865.
To be a truly independent country we needed to be recognized as such by another sovereign nation. The Confederacy tried, and failed, to get England to recognized them. The leaders of the revolutionary war also failed initially to gain recognition. Our best hope was France who despised the English and with whom, through Benjamin Franklin, we had warm relations with their government. But the French were reticent to acknowledge our sovereign existence. The French feared that England would turn on them and they would be, yet again, at war, a war they simply could not afford.
The first country to recognize us was Holland in 1776 and then Morocco in 1777. As great a statesman as Franklin was, he simply was unable to get the French to do more than to supply us with some money and an invaluable man whom Gen. George Washington used to help lead he ragtag group of revolutionaries, Lafayette. Finally, John Adams join Franklin in Paris and on a trip to Versailles, seat of the government, the French were convinced that we would likely win the war. Then, finally, on February 8, 1778, the French signed an agreement of “Amity and Commerce.” This gave America a trading partner in Europe of great importance.
But back in 1776, on that day of July 4, thirteen copies of the Declaration of Independence, all signed, we sent to the capitols of each of the new states. But the danger in holding this document was great and each was secreted away for the remainder of hostilities.
We had been at war for over a year when the Declaration of Independence was signed and distributed but had a poll of the world’s leaders been taken at that date asking the chances of our succeeding, it is likely we would have garnered only a few favorable votes. The fact was, we were losing the war and no one knew how many Tories, those still loyal to the English crown, still existed. Boston and the state of Massachusetts are virtually eradicated all its Tories on March 17, 1776 when the loyalists were given safe passage out of Boston Harbor and up to Nova Scotia.
But at that same time, New Jersey had for its governor Benjamin Franklin’s son who had declared himself loyal to the crown. Throughout the other 12 colonies similar conditions existed and people were extremely caution in whom they trusted.
European Wars, and now this war, were always fought in the warmer months of the year. Troops retired to their various sides during the winter months as had Washington and his troops in 1777. But Washington was not a traditionalist and his mind was ruminating over the many loses he had suffered thus far at the hands to the British. The worst being his having to watch he troops slaughtered on one side of the Hudson River while he sat on the other.
Washington moved southward and encamped at Valley Forge. From the beginning Washington had pressed the Continental Congress for the necessary implements of war to fight and win, mostly unsuccessfully. In 1777, Frederic von Steuben, a Prussian Lieutenant General, joined Washington and immediately set about training Washington’s troops at Valley Forge.
That winter, on Christmas Day, while the Hessian troops feasted, Washington rallied his troops to attack Trenton and in doing so gained his first major win of the Revolution. From there they continue their march up the middle of New Jersey winning battle after battle. But von Steuben’s effect was immediately obvious. The attack was far from perfect but even so, American officers were able to lead their men and accomplish their mission. And for the first time, America turned from a defensive military posture to an offensive one, a posture they never relinquished until the British government finally acquiesced after the Battle of Yorktown in 1783.
That eight-year period, from 1775 to 1783, was never easy for American patriots. By declaring war on Britain, they have lost their most important trading partner and certain types of goods were always in short supply. Fear of retribution among the general populace soon subsided after the siege of Boston succeeded and the first of the British departed. But until the tide of the war turned, no one could feel both safe and a patriot. But Americans asserted their grit and determination to be respected as a sovereign nation and this required 13 colonies to become united which they did.