The First Independence Day

July 1, 2013 in Trivia

Two Boys Celebrate Independence Day With SparklersEarly in American history, July 2, 1776 was the day associated with America’s break away from kings and taxation without representation, not July 4. July 2 was the date the Continental Congress actually voted for the Declaration of Independence, according to the U.S. National Archives.

John Adams wrote in a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

So why do American’s celebrate Independence Day on July 4? It’s because legalities matter. It was two days later on July 4 the Continental Congress actually approved and dated an edited version of the famous document.

The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

“The Declaration of Independence” painted by John Trumbull. Source: National Archives.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence did not even begin until August that year. In fact the signing process actually went on for months, as members of the Congress arrived from their various states. As president of the Congress, John Hancock was the first signatory. Hancock is celebrated for having made his mark on the document with an overly large signature.

He famously declared, “I will write it so that King George can read it without his spectacles.”

Hancock signed on August 2. Following that, the signing process continued on for months as members of the fledgling Congress returned from their distant states to commit their signatures to the document.  Fifty-six delegates eventually signed the document.

A transcription of the original Declaration of Independence can be found on the National Archives’ website.