Today, the United States of America celebrates its birthday. It is a commemoration of the day in 1776 when representatives of the 13 British colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, a separation from Great Britain.
That was the official beginning of the seven-year War for American Independence. But one of the most significant events of the conflict took place more than a year earlier, on April 18, 1775, during the first armed engagement between British troops and American militiamen in Massachusetts.
The first shot fired in the skirmish became known as the Shot Heard Around the World, because it presaged the monumental changes that would result from the Americans’ successful campaign to separate from what at the time was the world’s preeminent super power.
In the aftermath of the revolution, liberal ideals that characterized the Enlightenment became the official norm of American political culture. This included the disestablishment of the Anglican church, the idea of individual freedom, which quickly became widely accepted throughout the former colonies, and the notion that advancement should be determined by merit, not birth-right.
Most importantly, the relationship between the government and the governed changed. The top-down government headed by a hereditary ruling class was replaced by the principle of elected national and state executives. Common citizens played increasingly important roles in local and state governance, and as more people gained the right to vote, political participation increased.
Europe took note. While Monarchists waited for the new country to fail, thus undermining the idea of Republicanism, anti-monarchists saw that the American Revolution not only proved that oppressive governments could be overthrown, but that ordinary men could, and should, participate in governance.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal”. These words galvanized democratic and independence movements in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Poland, and Haiti, and around the globe. The phrase appeared in The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of the French Revolution. And in the 19th century, they inspired leaders such as Simon Bolivar, leading to successful uprisings against colonial powers in Latin American.
Over two hundred years ago, Marquis de Lafayette, one of the heroes of the American Revolution, said that “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.” But the implications of the American Revolution were global and continue to resound to this day.