Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy July 4th to all!

But what does US Independence Day have to tell us about conceptions of Statehood? (Strange question to interrupt hot dogs, ice cream and watermelon with, I appreciate, but this is an international law blog.) Oddly, this is a more interesting question than it may at first seem.

So why July 4th? On July 2nd, 1776, the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia voted to approve a Resolution of Independence drafted by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and was explained in a polemic drafted by John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia - the Committee of Five. Signed by John Hancock as President of the Second Continental Congress, this was approved on July 4th, and released on July 5th, and is known as the Dunlap Broadside after the printer John Dunlap and the size of paper he used - though the double entendre of a legal broadside is accurate, too.

(A different kind of broadside - USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerriere in 1812)

So what was the effect of the Declaration of Independence? At one level, it presumably demonstrated that the Continental Congress was serious in its intent to lead a revolution against British rule; but this was already underway - the Battles of Lexington and Concord had occurred in 1775. Moreover, the Revolutionary War would go on (and on, and on) until the final surrender of Cornwallis's army at Yorktown in October 1781 (though this marked what today may be called "the end of major combat operations"), with de jure independence being achieved in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, with ratification instruments exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784. 

So, July 4th has rivals as "Independence Day". It could be the de facto independence after Cornwallis's defeat on October 19th, or the de jure independence on May 12th. 

 (Charles Cornwallis, a loser despite his immaculate tailoring)

Why does this matter?

At one level, it clearly doesn't: everyone knows that the 4th of July is US Independence Day, with parades, fireworks and family time: and a national holiday certainly isn't going to get moved to May 12th because of this blog post. But at another, it suggests that the US celebrates its' own Statehood from the Declarations of Independence - which presumably means that if a State were to meet the 1933 Montevideo Convention Criteria which enshrines the Declarative Theory's four criteria for statehood into international law, and were to declare independence, then the US would grant recognition. 

For example, this could mean that Somaliland and Palestine would be recognised by the US without further ado, and that Taiwan need only to formally declare independence to achieve US recognition. Clearly this isn't going to happen, not least as it would be far too disruptive. But it's interesting to ponder none the less. 

So, Happy 4th everyone!

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