Hey, America, happy Second of July, the anniversary of the date in 1776 on which delegates from 12 American colonies declared themselves independent of British rule. In what may have been one of the first bits of media manipulation -- today those of us in the news business would call it "hold for release" -- the announcement of what took place on July 2 was made on July 4.

Those dates are not in dispute. But Wilfred J. Ritz, a recently retired law professor from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., is now disputing accounts of when the engrossed version of the document itself was signed.

Most historians agree (and the Encyclopedia Brittanica accepts) that the actual signing occurred on Aug. 2, 1776.

Ritz doesn't buy it. He contends, in a paper based upon long research, that the document actually was signed on July 4, and that its original heading proclaimed a "unanimous Declaration of Twelve States of America."

Based on copies of the original, Ritz said that line was apparently erased and somewhat smaller letters were inserted referring to "the thirteen united States of America."

The big question centers on -- but is not limited to -- whether one believes the official journal of the Continental Congress, which said the declaration was engrossed and signed on July 4, or the secret journal of the Congress, which says the engrossment was ordered on July 19 with an Aug. 2 signing.

Dane Hargrove, of the U.S. Archives, said Ritz's theory is interesting, but that many other scholars would have to concur before the Declaration document could be removed from its hermetically sealed container to be studied for erasures.

Okay -- why the discrepancy between 12 and 13 signatories? New York abstained from the original vote, awaiting ratification that occurred on July 9.