Thursday, July 3, 2014

What exactly happened on July 4, 1776?

Declaration of Independence

It's Independence Day! Fourth of July! The day that… Wait, what exactly happened on this day in 1776?

We think of July 4, 1776, as a day that represents the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation. Lots of people think our Declaration of Independence was signed on that day. Not true. It was signed for the first time on Aug. 2, 1776, and signatures were applied for months afterwards, as the 56 members of our congress returned from their distant states to sign their names on the document. 
 "The Spirit of '76"
Painting by A. M. Willard
Was 4th of July 1776 the day that the Continental Congress decided to vote to dissolve the ties between the colonies and the king and thus declare independence from the British Crown? No, sorry, delegates to the Continental Congress endorsed the idea of a Declaration of Independence two days prior, on July 2.  John Adams, the second American president, wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail, that "the second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America... It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other, from this Time forward forever more." 
It wasn’t the day we started the American Revolution either (that had happened back in April 1775). And it wasn't the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (that was in June 1776). Nor was the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn't happen until November 1776). 
Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson working on the Declaration
Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900
So what exactly happened on July 4, 1776? On this day The Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. July 4, 1776, became the date that was included on the original document and on the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.). It’s also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date they remembered. 
For the first 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. It was too new and too much else was happening in the young nation. By the 1790s, a time of bitter partisan conflicts, the Declaration had become controversial. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies. After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. 
An interesting fact is that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died hours apart on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the event. Their deaths may even have helped to promote the idea of July 4 as an important date to be celebrated.

Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday. 
But enough with historical facts, now go enjoy the celebration!

Source: Constitution Facts and Wikipedia Thank you! 
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