July 4th in history
Today is the Fourth of July. As Americans and the rest of the world know, this is a very special and momentous day: Not only is it one of the 365 days of the year, but a date that represents approximately 1/365th of recent world history.1 Here are some of the things that happened on July 4ths past:
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July 4, 45 B.C.E.: The first July 4 after the adoption of the Julian calendar, and thus the first July 4.2
July 4, 13 B.C.E.3: Augustus returns to Rome after conquering Gaul and Spain. He thought about conquering Britain too but “got distracted.”
July 4, 1177: Saladin defeats the Crusader king Guy of Lusignan at the Battle of Hattin, re-capturing Jerusalem and putting it under the control of the Muslim Ayyubid dynasty. Everything has been peaceful and quiet there ever since.
July 4, 1584: Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe arrive off the coast of present-day North Carolina on orders of Sir Walter Raleigh. They establish the first English colony in the Americas, which they named Roanoke. The colonists are met by several members of the Secotan people, whose ancestors had been living there for at least 8,000 years. Things ultimately go badly for both parties.
July 4, 1744: English colonists and the Iroquois Confederacy sign the Treaty of Lancaster, which allows a thousand Englishmen to settle west of the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley and what is now West Virginia and western Pennsylvania in exchange for peaceful relations. The English break the treaty and replace it with a new one in 1768. (That one is also broken.)
July 4, 1776: The Continental Congress formally adopts the full Declaration of Independence. They had actually voted for independence on July 2, and the declaration wouldn’t start to be signed until August 2 (with the last signature affixed in 1781). But, you know, happy Fourth of July.
July 4, 1777: John Adams writes his daughter Abigail from Philadelphia: “The thought of taking any notice of this day, was not conceived, until the second of this month, and it was not mentioned until the third. It was too late to have a sermon, as every one wished, so this must be deferred another year.”
July 4, 1778: There’s no celebration this year either, but George Washington orders a double ration of rum for his troops in New Jersey.
July 4, 1802: U.S. Military Academy opens at West Point, N.Y.
July 4, 1803: Thomas Jefferson announces he has bought the 828,000-square mile Louisiana Territory from Napoleon Bonaparte, who was forced to sell it because he got his ass kicked in Haiti. He grants Capt. Merriweather Lewis an unlimited budget from the federal treasury to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.
July 4, 1817: Construction begins on the Erie Canal.
July 4, 1827: Slavery is abolished in New York.
July 4, 1832: The first recorded public lecture is given in the United States on the topic of the rights of women. It is given by a man.
July 4, 1852: Frederick Douglass does not deliver his famous “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York. (He gives it the next day, July 5.)
July 4, 1855: Leaves of Grass is published in Brooklyn, kicking off a century and a half of insufferable hipsterdom in the borough.
July 4, 1863: Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton surrender to United States forces under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, Mississippi, cutting off Arkansas, Texas, and most of Louisiana from the rest of the Confederacy and paving the way for the end of the war.
July 4, 1870: The first July 4 that is an official holiday for federal workers. It is unpaid and will remain that way until 1938.
July 4, 1881: The Tuskeegee Institute opens in Alabama.
July 4, 1894: American sugar planters in Hawai’i, having overthrown Queen Liliuokalani a year earlier, declare
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