“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 1
These opening words by Thomas Jefferson marked the end of British rule in America. It marked a show of defiance against what was determined to be an oppressive regime.
History has told us July 4, 1776 is Independence day. History also has a tendency not to tell us all of the truth.
The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the next steps for the American colonies after King George III rejected the Olive Branch Petition. The decision was made to ultimately declare independence and separate from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were chosen to draft a document explaining the reasons for a split between the colonies and Great Britain. This is the same story we have heard and learned in school for years.
Courtesty of Google Images and Wikipedia
The actual date of independence was declared on July 2, 1776. John Adams claimed it would be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” 2 Adams was absolutely right, he just did not have the right date.
More on that in a moment.
Today, the Declaration of Independence is housed in the National Archives in Washington DC. However, that was not its home until 1952. During the Revolution it is thought the original copy was housed at the office of Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson. In addition it probably followed the Continental Congress through the colonies during the war. 3 Capturing the document would have been a major propaganda victory for the British. It would have also spelled certain doom for the signers had the Americans failed in their attempt at independence. In the years after the war, the Declaration of Independence was kept at various locations in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. The exception being a stint at Fort Knox during World War II. 4
As noted, the Declaration was created and given preliminary approval on July 2. However, Franklin and Adams edited part of the document and final approval was given by the Continental Congress on July 4. 5 So a case can be made for either day. However, nobody actually signed it in July 1776. That was reserved until August. Even then, not everyone at the Continental Congress signed, and some did not until November of that year. 6
On July 8, The Declaration was read publicly for the first time to the people of Philadelphia, and the Liberty Bell was rung…and cracked…except not really. In 1752, the bell was cracked due to being poorly cast. 7
The story of the writing of the Declaration actually begin in June 1776 when Richard Henry Lee (brother of Continental Army General “Light Horse” Harry Lee as well as Great Uncle to Confederate General Robert E. Lee), introduced a resolution for independence. Four days later, the committee to draft the Declaration was appointed and began working. By June 28, the first draft was completed and read before Congress. From July 1-4 it was debated, edited, and significantly cut in size. (For an example of what was cut see (THIS) article I wrote). On July 2 it was approved with final edits taking a couple of additional days. The traditional day for independence is marked as July 4 because the resolution was adopted and Dunlap Broadsides began printing copies. On August 2, the delegates began to formally sign the Declaration of Independence. However, Eldbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton signed on various days all the way to November 1776. 8
Courtesty History.com and Google Images
So, should Independence Day be celebrated on July 2, July 4, or August 4?
On July 4th, the Continental Congress gave its formal approval for independence.
On July 4th, we celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate the day 56 men stood up and said enough with tyranny. Enough with being abused. Enough with not being listened to. Those men stood up, with no money, no finances, and no official alliances to the worlds super power. They fought, begged, borrow, and stole their way to a stalemate that officially ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.
July 4, 1776 is not the Fourth of July holiday. We don’t celebrate December 25th. We don’t celebrate October 31st. We don’t celebrate February 14th.
Independence Day is July 4th. While Congress adopted the Lee Resolution on July 2nd, the formal approval to the committee’s writing was on July 4th. With this approval, copies were ordered of this final document, not the working draft of the July 2nd resolution. Herein lies the reason for Independence Day being celebrated as July 4th.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 9
I would be remiss if I failed to discuss more of the signers. There were 56 delegates who put their name on the document. Five of the signers were captured, however, none died in captivity. One died of wounds suffered in the Revolution. Button Gwinnett was wounded at the hands of another American officer in a duel. 10 History has led us to believe all sorts of stories about the signers. I will not address them here because it gives me something to research down the road. What can be said, in no uncertain terms, is that the signers of the Declaration of Independence took a massive risk not just for themselves, but also to their property, their families, and their future livelihood.
1 Accessed July 01, 2016. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/bdsdcc:@field(DOCID @lit(bdsdcc02101).
2 “Fascinating Facts about the Declaration of Independence.” Declaration of Independence Facts, Full Text & Dates To Remember. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/fascinating-facts/.
3 “NARA – The Declaration of Independence – Our National Treasure.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/treasure/declaration_travels.html.
5 “Fourth of July: Nine Myths Debunked.” National Geographic. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/07/110704-fourth-of-july-myths-google-doodle-nation-independence-day/.
8 “Primary Documents in American History.” Declaration of Independence: Primary Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). Accessed July 01, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/DeclarInd.html.
9 N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2016.
10″The Price They Paid: Fates of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.” Snopes. Accessed July 01, 2016. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/pricepaid.asp. I hate using Snopes because it is not really an academic source, but it works here.