July 4th is a remarkable day for Americans and for the cause of freedom. It is a day of great celebration for the birth of our nation, filled with parades, fireworks, speeches, and of course, readings of a great document. As many Americans will tell you, the members of Congress famously signed the Declaration of Independence on this date in history.
Or did they?
In fact, they did not! Many of the widely accepted “facts” surrounding the birth of our nation are errors that have been handed down from one generation to the next. I thought it might be fun to share some of the interesting tidbits of history with you today.
In truth, historians now agree the Declaration was actually signed on August 2nd, 1776, not July 4th.
Leading up to the signing, on June 7th, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for their independence from Britain. Many American’s wanted to break away from British rule at the time. It was suggested that Congress break for several weeks to draft a formal declaration, and a five-man team was appointed. It fell upon Thomas Jefferson to draft the document. Congress reconvened on July 1st, and motion was passed on July 2nd to break away from British rule. The delegates voted almost unanimously to declare independence. However, the actual Declaration of Independence was still being written! Thomas Jefferson was hard at work on the document, revising it through July 3rd with edits and corrections being submitted by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Even as late as the next morning of July 4th, Congress was deleting and revising large sections of the text. Finally, on July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was complete and adopted by Congress.
So American’s celebrated Independence on July 4th, correct? Nope! In fact, it wasn’t until July 8th that Philadelphia organized the first celebration, complete with cannon fire and a parade. George Washington got the news on July 9th and only then began celebrating with his troops, camped outside of New York, at that point. Celebrations began as late into the summer as August 10th when the state of Georgia got the news (no Twitter announcements back then.) In 1777, with the war raging, Philadelphia held the first (of what would become an) annual celebration of independence on July 4th. Other states took notice and followed suit. In 1781, Massachusetts made July 4th an official state holiday, and in 1870 Congress made July 4th an official Federal holiday for all Americans to celebrate.
Of interesting note: three American presidents have passed away on July 4th. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away within hours of one another on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Additionally, James Munroe, the fifth president, passed away on July 4th, 1831. And just to further commemorate the significance of the day, the 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge was born on none other than July 4th, 1872.
Enjoy your Fourth of July!