February 16, 1918 – The Council of Lithuania unanimously adopts the Act of Independence, declaring Lithuania an independent state.
The Act of Independence proclaimed the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty representatives of the Council, which was chaired by Jonas Basanavicius. The Act of February 16 was the result of a series of resolutions on the issue, including one issued by the Vilnius Conference and the Act of January 8. The path to the Act was long and complex because the German Empire exerted pressure on the Council to form an alliance. The Council had to carefully maneuver between the Germans, whose troops were present in Lithuania, and the demands of the Lithuanian people.
The immediate effects of the announcement of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence were limited. Publication of the Act was prohibited by the German authorities, and the text was distributed and printed illegally. The work of the Council was hindered, and Germans remained in control over Lithuania. The situation changed only when Germany lost World War I in the fall of 1918. In November 1918 the first Cabinet of Lithuania was formed, and the Council of Lithuania gained control over the territory of Lithuania. Independent Lithuania, although it would soon be battling the Wars of Independence, became a reality.
While the Act’s original document has been lost, its legacy continues. The laconic Act is the legal basis for the existence of modern Lithuania, both during the interwar period and since 1990. The Act formulated the basic constitutional principles that were and still are followed by all Constitutions of Lithuania. The Act itself was a key element in the foundation of Lithuania’s re-establishment of independence in 1990. Lithuania, breaking away from the Soviet Union, stressed that it was simply re-establishing the independent state that existed between the world wars and that the Act never lost its legal power.
Pictured for your inspection are the first Lithuania “arms” stamp issues of 1920 (Scott #1) in its various shades. Some of these stamps were imperforate, meaning simply that no machine was used in production to create perforations (like the first 3 examples shown here) which would allow mailers to easily tear off a stamp from a sheet. Postal clerks selling these would have to cut the stamps off of a sheet using a scissors and the value of an imperforate stamp is, in part, determined by how clean and even the cut was and how much of a margin of white space existed on all 4 sides of the stamp – the more blank margin, the better. Centering of the stamp image is also a desired attribute that collectors look for when determining value.