Monday, July 2, 2012

Little Known Facts about Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

by Karen V. Wasylowski

Were you aware that Independence Day, America's beloved Fourth of July, should really be celebrated on July 2? 

Yes. July 2, 1776 is the day that the Continental Congress actually voted for independence from Great Britain. John Adams, in his writings to his wife Abigail, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations. The written Declaration of Independence was dated July 4 but wasn't actually signed until August 2. So, to be quite clear about this - the Fourth of July is actually the Second of July, and if you really want to stretch out that celebration, we could have fireworks again, on August 2. (Interesting aside - my birthday is August 4. Feel free to celebrate that as well.)

Who Signed first? Who Signed Last? 

John Hancock signed first, with a large hand right in the middle because he was the President of the Congress. It is believed Thomas McKean of Delaware was the last person to sign. When Congress authorized the printing of an official copy with the names attached in January 1777, a full six months later, McKean's name was not included. He signed after that date, or the printer made a mistake by omitting him.

Oldest signer? Youngest? 

Edward Rutledge was the youngest at 26 years of age - or should I say six and twenty? He was from South Carolina and he argued against Jefferson's condemnation of slavery clause, which was eventually blue penciled (don't you just hate copy editors?) Jefferson remained bitter about this deletion until his death. Of course, he was a slave owner himself, which is a bit odd.

Benjamin Franklin, of the famous stove making family, was the eldest to sign at seventy years of age - or should I say zero and seventy? Quite the scamp, Franklin famously said at the signing, "We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." (If I had been a delegate I would have been a screaming blur of feet and hands barreling out the door at that remark)

On The Road Again – Just Can't Wait to Get On the Road Again 

 Very like the Traveling Wilbury's the Declaration of Independence was on the road for many years. After the August 2 signing ceremony it stayed in Philadelphia for a while but a British threat on December 12 encouraged the Congress to make a hasty retreat. They reconvened eight days later, in Baltimore, Maryland, Document in hand only to return it to Philadelphia in March of 1777. Throughout the following years the Document traveled with the Continental Congress across the Northeast ending up in Washington, DC in 1800.

THEY'RE BACK! In 1814 with the British again threatening war the Document was moved to an unused gristmill in Virginia. On August 24, as the British burned the White House, it was moved to Leesburg, Virginia - UNTIL September, when it returned to the capital.

No 'United States' mentioned in the Declaration for united States? 

When the Founding Fathers adopted "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" [wiki] on July 4, 1776, they didn’t form the nation called The United States of America. The 'United States' was actually formed on March 1, 1781 when the Second Continental Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation.

Is that a fact? 

The middle section of the Declaration is a list of grievances the colonies had against King George III or the British Parliament. The British people, on the other hand, were not held to be at fault.

By the time the Declaration was written the United States had been at war with Great Britain for over a year.

Contrary to the movie, National Treasure, there is no map on the back of the Declaration. There is only a notation to label the document for filing.

Thomas Jefferson took on the duty of drafting the Declaration, asking John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for corrections. His 'rough draft' is in the Library of Congress.

These crazy kids - they never take care of their things!

According to historian Pauline Maier, who wrote 'American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence':

It wasn't taken care of very well in the early years. It was sort of rolled up, carried around with the Second Continental Congress. And then the State Department kept it, and if people came, they'd pull it out and show it to them. None of this, you know, enormous--What do they call it?--at the Library of Congress--argon caskets, you know, these heavy metal, glass cases that have gas in them without oxygen so that the documents don't decompose. And the Library of Congress keeps them sort of in a refrigerator. It's the most precious documents--none of that.

I mean, they just pulled it out and showed it to you, the real thing. And then they got tired of pulling it out, so they pasted it up on a wall in what was then the patent office, and there it remained for 30 years near a very bright window. It faded. And they spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what they could do with it. Modern preservation techniques are really a quite recent development. (Source)

The beautiful words of Thomas Jefferson:

“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

 Have a great Second thru Fourth of July everyone!

Karen V. Wasylowski is the author of 

a very, very funny sequel to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"  

"It is absorbing.  It is Intoxicating.  It is excellent."

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  1. Great post on many facts that we, Americans, are never taught in school. Wish we were...

  2. I find it very amazing that such an important document was treated so casually. But that is the case every time. While we are making history, we are too busy enjoying the actual moment to think about preserving the souvenirs for history.


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