This Day in History: Bostonians celebrate independence
On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence is proclaimed to the public from the Old State House in Boston. That building had been home to many aspects of the King’s government for decades. Now American independence would be declared from its balcony as a huge crowd gathered below.
What a striking contrast.
Needless to say, the crowd was jubilant. Remember, Bostonians were in a unique position. They’d been at the epicenter of the conflict with Great Britain for years—events such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the shots at Lexington and Concord had all occurred in or near city boundaries.
And now, after all this time, Bostonians knew the rest of the colonies would join in the fight for independence. What a great feeling that must have been.
Abigail Adams was in the crowd that day. “[G]reat attention was given to every word,” she wrote. “As soon as he ended, the cry from the [balcony], was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull.”
Bostonians were soon looking for items that carried a royal insignia or any mark of English authority. Crowns, lions, and royal arms were ripped from buildings—even the State House—and thrown into a huge bonfire. Abigail would report that “every vestige of [the King] from every place in which it appeared” was burnt.
It was a scene that would be repeated over and over across the thirteen colonies. Royal statues were torn down. Mock funeral processions were held for the King. Symbols representing him were hung on gallows. Portraits were burned.
Despite all these celebrations and displays of independence, surely Boston’s was something special. They’d endured so much to get to this moment in time.
For months, Abigail had been writing to her husband, then serving in the Continental Congress. “Let us seperate,” she wrote in one letter, “they are unworthy to be our Breathren. . . . Let us beseach the almighty to blast their counsels and bring to Nought all their devices.” She didn’t mince words, did she? A few months later, she wrote John Adams again. “I long to hear that you have declared an independency,” she sighed.
Now, on this day so long ago, she knew that she had finally gotten her wish. Can’t you just imagine the happiness that must have welled up inside her—and so many other Bostonians—that day?
“Thus ends royal authority in this State,” she concluded.
Boston Discovery Guide: Old State House Museum
Edmund F. Slafter, Royal Memorials and Emblems in use in the Colonies before the Revolution (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society; January 1889) (reprinted HERE)
Holger Hoock, Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850 (2010)
Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams (July 21 - 22, 1776)
Object of the Month: Declaration of Independence (Massachusetts Historical Society)
Old State House (Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum website)