and Why We Don’t Say Happy 2nd of July.
Know what today is? It is 2nd of July! It is the day that the Continental Congress officially declared our freedom from Britain—a declaration of independence. So why do we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day instead?
The 2nd of July was the day Congress voted for independence, but it took two more days to finalize a document which explained it to the public. A committee of five proposed it in draft form. Those five were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. It took two more days for Congress to agree on the edits. They made 86 changes to the draft. The final adopted version of the Declaration was primarily written by Jefferson.
Of those five men two would sign not only the Declaration of Independence but also our Constitution.
Then those that were there signed it, and they printed 200 copies. They distributed these 200 copies throughout the thirteen colonies. Today, only 26 of the 200 remain that we know of.
One of those 26 wasn’t discovered until 1989 in Adamstown, Pennsylvania at a flea market. Actually, someone bought an old picture in a frame for $4, and behind the old picture was one of the original 200. Norman Lear bought it for $8.1 million. The last copy found was in 2009 in the British National Archives. It was hidden in a box of papers seized during the Revolutionary War.
So we celebrate the date of the approval of the final version – July 4th. It wasn’t completely signed though, until November 4 of the same year. The names of the signers were withheld publicly until early in 1777. A year after the declaration of independence on July 3rd, several men remembered that it had been a year since we declared our freedom. Thus, July 4th became the day that we celebrate, not the 2nd of July. It wasn’t until 1941 that Congress declared it a federal legal holiday.
In a nutshell, the document stated the reasons we wanted to be free of England’s government; that the authority to govern belongs to the people, not a king; and that all people are created equal and have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Written in three basic parts: an introduction with a statement of the philosophy (an idea); a list of grievances or complaints; and a formal Declaration of Independence, there are five references to God.
How important is the Declaration of Independence?
Well, it only left our nation’s Capitol twice. Once for the War of 1812 when the British attacked Washington and another time about two weeks after Pearl Harbor when they packed up the Declaration and Constitution and the military escorted them to Fort Knox in Kentucky. They remained there for several years.
They moved it to an unused gristmill in Leesburg, Virginia, when they took it from Washington for the War of 1812. The British burned the White House in 1814 and much of the city including the Capitol. My third great grandfather was born in Washington, DC in 1811. He was only three years old when this took place. When the Declaration was moved it traveled rolled up and likely by light wagon or horseback. When it was first brought to Washington though it traveled by boat. During War II it traveled by a Pullman train.
All 2.5 million of the colonists were not united in seeking freedom from the crown. Twenty percent of the colonists were Loyalists. The crown declared Congress traitors by royal decree.
Did you know that the Declaration was signed in the Pennsylvania State House? The building’s name changed after the signing and became Independence Hall.
How was the 4th of July Initially Celebrated?
The first public reading of the Declaration was on July 8th in Philadelphia. The crowd summoned by the Liberty Bell, which sounded from the tower of Independence Hall on that date. Can you imagine standing in that crowd and hearing those words for the first time?
This is why every 4th of July the ring Liberty Bell. Actually, they only tap 13 times in honor of the original thirteen colonies. After all, it is cracked.
General George Washington ordered that the Declaration be read to the American army in New York. A riot ensued., and the crowd tore down a nearby statue of George III, a statue which they subsequently melted down and made into musket balls for the American army.
How was the Declaration Protected During the Revolution?
First remember that there was no Washington, DC. They initially moved the Declaration from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Maryland when the British threatened Philadelphia on December 12 of the same year. At the same time, Congress adjourned and moved to Baltimore, too. The document stayed in Baltimore until March of 1777 when they returned it to Philadelphia. Congress moved several times throughout the Northeast before finally moving it and themselves to Washington, DC in 1800.
Did you know that there was no “United States of America” in the Declaration? Instead, it reads “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.”
Thomas Jefferson in his original draft listed the crown’s support and importation of slavery to the colonies as one of America’s grievances. He wrote, “He (the crown) has waged war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.” Unfortunately, the grievance was edited out to appease the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia.
What About the Signers?
The signers of the Declaration took their lives in their hands. Signing the document was an act of treason, punishable by death. That is why the names of the men who signed were not announced until January of 1777.
Were all the signers born in America? No, eight were born in Britain, though not all of England. Two signers were only 26 years old. The oldest to sign was Benjamin Franklin at 70 years old. The average age of the signers was 45. Twenty-four of the signers were lawyers, eleven were merchants, and nine were farmers or planters. Eight were educated at Harvard, though there were few universities then.
Robert Livingston one of the original drafters never signed the final copy. Only two presidents signed the document—Adams and Jefferson. John Hancock was the first member to sign the document because he was president of the Continental Congress.
Nine of the signers died before the Revolution ended in 1783. The British captured five of the signers, but all were eventually released. One, though, released after harsh treatment recanted his signature.
Two colonies remained loyal to the king. Did you know that there were actually fifteen colonies? The other two were East Florida and West Florida. After the revolution, Britain sold them back to Spain.
There is something written on the back of the Declaration. It says “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” No one knows who wrote it.
Our Founding Was Indeed Unique
The driving forces were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You will notice that this phrase does not include religion, clan, or even nationality. America was founded on an idea…on a philosophy.
The enlightenment movement was part of that era. People questioned traditional authority and embraced rationalism. Whereas our Declaration called on “certain unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, a British philosopher named John Locke in 1689 talked about “life, liberty and property” in his “Two Treatises of Government.” Surely, Jeffersonread his treatise.
Best of all, though, the United States of America did not even exist until after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Happy 4th of July!!
Now for some interesting trivia. Can you name the three presidents who died on July 4th? And can you name the president who was born on this date? Also, which famous contemporary actress is a direct descendent of one of the 56 signers? Please answer in the comments below.