Most Americans know popular trivia about Independence Day (such as the debate over July 2 versus July 4 as the real “Independence Day”). Here are five other fun pieces of minor trivia to toss out during your July 4th cookout or while watching a fireworks display:
1. America’s first diplomatic mission could be called “Fifty Shades of Ben.”
They say politics make for strange bedfellows, and none were quite as strange as that of Ben Franklin and the royal court of France. Seriously. The patriarch of the American press was, at his core, a bit of a party animal and before the ink was even dry on the Treaty of Paris, stories of his debauchery and appetites had become the stuff of legends in France and Britain alike. Though there is no first-hand confirmation of any sort of actual hanky-panky between Franklin and the many ladies who made his acquaintance, it was this uber-gregariousness on his part which has been attributed, in no small part, to the French government aligning itself with America. After all, if you can’t trust the man who seduces half your royal court’s maidens, then who can you trust?
2. Even a Powerball winner never had George Washington’s luck!
The “Father of the Country,” George Washington’s original story was one of massive luck! The fact that he dodged death while serving the Crown wasn’t enough; with little to his name but his own honor, he married Martha Custis, who happened to be loaded to the gills! However, George was no gold digger – he faithfully took care of Martha and regarded her children as his own flesh and blood (and was later devastated by the death of his stepdaughter, Patsy). Mount Vernon, facilitated partly through Martha’s wealth and Washington’s own good luck in the distillery trade, became one of the finest homes in the colonies. Though he accepted the Continental Congress’ request to become Commander in Chief of the Continental Army (with great reluctance – he believed he wasn’t ready), combat in the war was where his luck really came out: first, Washington’s forces retreated from New York in the famous Fog of 1776 without the British being the wiser and, later during a firefight near Princeton following the Battle of Trenton, Washington rode his horse between the lines and, despite hundreds of rounds being fired on both sides, Washington never even suffered a scratch! The final hit of good luck came when Washington, despite showing a conspicuous avoidance of the job, was elected the first President following ratification of the Constitution, taking office in 1789. Washington finally succeeded in saying “thanks, but no thanks,” when he chose to leave office in 1797, rather than taking a third term.
3. Americans were mostly anti-war back then, too!
By and large, Americans were not in favor of fighting the Crown, and with good reason – Britain was, simply put, the world’s superpower at the time. They had the world’s largest, most powerful navy, one of the most disciplined, well supplied and well led armies around, and the wealth and governmental resolve necessary to make a rebellion in some far-flung land just a footnote in history. Had the British military a better grasp of public relations (and their officers slightly more respect for their opponent’s ability), the American Revolution may have been a very different affair. Grievous atrocities upon non-fighting colonials (Bannister Tarleton), combined with reckless arrogance relative to the opponent’s abilities (Admiral Howe, Generals Clinton and Cornwallis), and a touch of generally foolish belief that colonials will simply acquiesce to the whim of a government in which they had no representation (British House of Lords), led to the tide of American anti-war sentiment slowly turning. The next fact also helped.
4. The press weren’t exactly objective in that era, either!
Anyone who thinks the media is biased today should really take a look at the newspapers of the day during the American Revolution. Newspapers such as the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy ran highly partisan pieces which, depending on the publisher, were either vehemently in favor of, or acidly against, the independence effort. There was, quite literally, no in-between. Of course, the aforementioned Ben Franklin’s “anonymous” letters didn’t hurt the war effort, nor did the contributions of the person behind the next fun fact.
5. America’s first celebrity writer is an example of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!”
Thomas Paine was a failed…well, everything…before, with Ben Franklin’s help, he settled in Philadelphia. It was Paine’s notions of liberty and ability with the written word, along with Franklin’s encouragement and backing, which led to the first popular calls for independence in his pamphlet, Common Sense. This work helped whip colonial sentiment against the Crown quickly but, as is still today the case, Americans displayed a short memory. As the war dragged on and popular support quickly ebbed, it was Paine’s second major piece, The Crisis, which is credited with reviving flagging morale among the colonists and, more to the point, remains a work widely considered the most profound piece of liberty-oriented philosophy in American history. One of his other works, The Rights of Man, is widely credited as an inspiration for the French Revolution.