The July 4 holiday in America commemorates America’s Declaration of Independence, which was ratified on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence is known as one of the world’s most impressive documents, a statement of principles and intent to secede from Great Britain. The Declaration itself did not form a government. Instead, the Declaration of Independence outlined the colonists’ concerns about King George III. It outlined 28 separate grievances. The colonists did not believe that King George III would concede to their demands. It was written in order to convince the world, and doubting colonists, why America should be independent. The spirited document also outlines what the eventual government would hope to avoid, like tyranny, decentralized government and other things if they were able to form a government.
Many people who were not born in the American colonies had a major role in the Declaration and subsequent War of Independence, including these three foreign-born American heroes.
Marquis de Lafayette
The Marquis de Lafayette is the most famous of the many fighting Frenchmen who rallied to the American cause. Descended from one of France’s most elite families, the Marquis arrived in America and enlisted in the Army without pay. At just 19 years old and without combat experience, the smooth-talking Marquis convinced the Americans to make him a general. During his time in the Army, the Marquis was shot in the leg and returned to France in order to raise more money and bring ships and supplies to the colonists. The Marquis was with Washington at Valley Forge and eventually named his son after America’s first president. The Marquis, with the help of Thomas Jefferson, authored the Rights of Man. The French National Assembly adopted the Declaration and it is still enshrined in the French Constitution today.
“Thaddeus” Tadeusz Kosciuszko is one of America’s most important early heroes. Despite his contributions, his National Memorial, which is the smallest and among the least-visited sites in the National Parks System, remains largely unknown. His monument is located only a few blocks from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Like the Marquis de Lafayette, Kosciuszko was inspired by the American uprising. He was a military engineer in Poland who came to the colonies to offer his services. He created defenses that helped the Continental Army win the Battle of Saratoga. He also created the fortifications that secured the Hudson River at West Point. Thomas Jefferson called him “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” After the war, Kosciuszko returned to Poland, where he led an uprising against Russian tsarist forces. Sadly, Kosciuszko was imprisoned in St. Petersburg and later died in exile in Switzerland.
Friedrich von Steuben
Friedrich von Steuben was born in Magdeburg, Prussia [now Germany] to a common family. However, he advanced through the ranks of the Prussian Army, eventually calling himself “Baron.” In 1777 a meeting with Ben Franklin in Paris convinced him to head to Virginia to join the Continental Army. He is credited with helping turn the tide of the war by training American troops at Valley Forge, teaching them drill and battle readiness, discipline and weaponry. Von Steuben created the first U.S. military manual. He was eventually made a Major General fighting at Yorktown and helping defeat the British at Monmouth County. Von Steuben became a U.S. citizen after the war.