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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 07/02/2012

Why July 2 is really America’s independence day

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail with this prediction:


Rough Journal of Continental Congress, June 11, 1776, the day Thomas Jefferson began writing the Declaration of Independence. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
“the Second 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.”

Why July 2nd? Why did he not write her another letter, on July 4th, and say he had been premature?

Because it was on July 2, 1776, that the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia voted to approve a resolution for independence from Britain.

On that same day, the Pennsylvania Evening Post published this: “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”

So why do we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day?

We do because of a little thing called the Declaration of Independence.

The document was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th. The first draft of the declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson, who gave it to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin for editing. (You can read about it at the National Archives Web site.) Jefferson then took their version, refined it further and presented it to the Congress.

Scholars don’t even think the document was signed by delegates of the Continental Congress on July 4th.

The huge canvas painting by John Trumbull hanging in the grand Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol depicting the signing of the Declaration is, it turns out, a work of imagination. In his biography of John Adams, historian David McCullough wrote: “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

It is now believed that most of the delegates signed it on Aug. 2. That’s when the assistant to the secretary of Congress, Timothy Matlack, produced a clean copy.

John Hancock, who was the president of the Continental Congress, signed first, right in the middle of the area for signatures. The last delegate to sign, according to the National Archives, is believed to be Thomas McKean of Delaware, some time in 1777.

The city of Philadelphia, where the Declaration was signed, waited until July 8 to celebrate, with a parade and the firing of guns. The Continental Army under the leadership of George Washington didn’t learn about it until July 9.

As for the British government in London, well, it didn’t know that the United States had declared independence until Aug. 30.

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By  |  11:13 AM ET, 07/02/2012

 
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