Yeah, yeah, yeah, today’s the fourth. Like the Second Continental Congress in 1777, I let the second get away from me, thought about it on the third and did something about it on the fourth.
What am I talking about? John Adams’ letter to his wife, Abigail, from July 3, 1776.
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe 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 forevermore.”
The second? What was he talking about? To answer that, you have to back up to June 7, 1776. On that day, Richard Lee of Virginia presented a resolution to Congress that in part read: Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Being politicians they had to debate, discuss, haggle and I think there was a fist-fight in there somewhere. The knew they were long past getting back their rights as British citizens, but the question was when should they become independent? Some wanted it now, some wanted to establish foreign aid first and some states had never been given instructions from their state legislatures on how they should vote. So let the debate and discussion begin.
On July 1 enough colonies were in favor to pass the resolution by a majority but there was a request to hold the vote the next day in hopes of making it unanimous. On July 2, South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted yes, along with Delaware that needed their third delegate to break a tie. New York abstained, having never received permission to vote for it.
So on July 2, the vote was taken, the measure passed and Congress considered the colonies free and independent from that moment. The next two days were spent reading the Declaration that was already in the works and discussing desired changes. On July 4, they voted to approve the Declaration with a few changes (taking out a huge hunk about slavery, for one) and then had the secretary write out a fresh copy and send it to the printer’s. It was read aloud on the July 8 for the first time and signatures were gathered later in July and in August. It may or may not have been signed by anyone on July 4.
So why was the first celebration of independence on July 4, 1777? Because July 2nd came and went before anyone realized it. On July 3rd, Congress decided to hold celebrations the following day and encouraged the other states to do the same. And well, once you’ve started something …
So, we are going to enjoy our hot dogs and fireworks on the fourth!
|The portable desk on which Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He built the desk, too.|
|A digital copy of the first published copy of the Declaration. The original is at Yale University.|