Done July 1 in the 236th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA
This Wednesday, July Fourth, will mark the start of the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. Dating the year from July Fourth, 1776 was the American way of celebrating the right of self-determination that the founding generation wrested from Britain. It used to be wildly popular.
I am not certain who the first American was to date a document according to the the Independence of the United States of America, but the Constitution of Georgia was “Done at Savannah, in convention, the fifth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven, and in the first year of the Independence of the United States of America. ” And Hugh Grimes deeded 620 acres to his son James Grimes, and registered the transfer in Duplin County on “15 October 1777, and in the Second year of the Independence of the United States of America.”
Here, for example, is an image of the 1822 cornerstone of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. Founded in the 1740’s, the congregation was legally incorporated in the Hebrew year 5542, the sixth year of the Independence of the United States of America, and erected a new building in 5583.
This was done all over the world, of course, but the rest of the world used regnal years, calenders that counted from the start of the reign of the current king. Britain has many fusty documents dated this way; The Magna Carta was signed by King John “on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign”, and the 1609 Charter of the Virginia Colony was signed by King James, on the “23d Day of May, in the seventh Year of our Reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland.” Others use both the regnal year and the Gregorian date; the radical Reformers aboard the Mayflower signed their Compact, “at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.”
But by the eighteenth century regnal years had largely gone out of style in Britain, used mainly in the ritualized language of appointments to the Royal Court and in diplomatic treaties. Americans, however, used the practice of dating the year from the Fourth of July 1776 as a way of making a statement about the importance of political self-determination.
The Articles of Confederation were authorized on “in the Third Year of the independence of America” and the text of the Constitution of the United States was dated, “the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.”
The copyright notice in Noah Webster’s American Dictionary was dated “on the fourteenth day of April, in the fifty-second year of the Independence of the United States of America.” James Fennimore Cooper, Mercy Otis Warren, and Washington Irving, and thousands of other authors dated their books this way; it was quite the done thing.
Wills, deeds, laws, and books all celebrated the rights and responsibilities of independent nationhood by counting the years form the day the Declaration of Independence was issued. But I will close where I began, with a cornerstone, this one is from the Old College building at the University of Georgia.
The worn lettering reads “The Site of this Building was chosen on the VIth day of July 1801 in the XXVIth year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA by GEORGE WALTON, ABRAHAM BALDWIN, JOHN MILLEDGE, JOHN TWIGGS, and HUGH LAWSON, a Committee of the Senatus Academicus of the University of Georgia and for the benefit of the Institution the adjacent land was on that day given by JOHN MILLEDGE. Robt. Allan Sculpt. Savannah.”
With best wishes for a glorious Fourth of July, in this, the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA..