Posted by: Bystander PJ1 JUL 2009
The whole world knows that today, 4 July, is Independence Day in the US. But what most people do not know is that there is little justification for celebrating on this day. Independence was actually declared on 2 July 1776 and most of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence were not inscribed until a month later.
It was on 2 July that the Second Continental Congress voted for the legal separation of the American colonies from Britain. After approving a resolution of independence proposed by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, Congress turned its attention to a statement explaining its decision.
This Declaration of Independence had nominally been prepared by a committee, although Thomas Jefferson was its principal author. After debate, Congress revised the declaration and finally approved it on 4 July.
But 4 July was not at the time seen as a significant date. Indeed, on 3 July one of the signatories, John Adams, had written to his wife: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.
“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
In the event, Adams’s prediction was off by two days because Americans chose to celebrate independence on the date shown on the declaration rather than on the date on which Congress actually approved the resolution of independence.
The myth that Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776 became so firmly established that Jefferson and Adams — the only two signatories who went on to serve as president of the US — both came to believe that they and the other delegates to Congress had signed it on that date. In fact, most delegates actually signed the declaration on 2 August.
By a strange coincidence, Adams and Jefferson both died on 4 July 1826, the 50th anniversary of the supposed formation of the US.