On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain for thirteen of the British colonies in North America.
“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.” (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142.)
Generally, only the first part of this passage is quoted. It’s probably only to poke a little harmless fun at John Adams for dropping the ball on the date. We now celebrate the occasion on the date when the formal resolution was first signed and published.
But the rest is the more significant part. Adams, along with the rest of the delegates, were fully aware that the road ahead would be long and dangerous, and not just personally.
The war would drag on for seven long years, with many close calls. If the Continental Army had not been able to escape after losing the Battle of Long Island the next month… If Benedict Arnold hadn’t been able to build a fleet on Lake Champlain to block the British at Valcour Island that fall… If Washington’s surprise attack on Trenton in December, 1776 had failed… If Arnold hadn’t disobeyed orders at Saratoga… If Washington had been killed while doing recon near Brandywine Creek in 1777… If the “Conway Cabal” had succeeded… If the British had defeated the French Expeditionary Force… If Daniel Morgan’s troops had panicked at Cowpens… If the British had managed to escape at Yorktown… If the Newburgh Conspiracy had succeeded…
It would take even longer, but the thirteen new states would eventually fuse into something greater than the sum of their parts. I think we can all agree with Adams that “the End is more than worth all the Means”, and we have no reason to rue that Days Transaction.