May 30th, 2024


Independence Day

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published June 24, 2016

July 4th is the day we speak of honoring our country and freedom. We especially honor the Founding Fathers and the brave patriots who came after them who unselfishly served our country and kept us safe. These things will be said and written by many again this year, I'm sure, along with what it means to be an American living in the land of the free with liberty and justice for all.

But there is more to know, much more. Gather around, children, and I will put you wise on how and why the fourth day of the seventh month became America's birthday. It's probably not what you think. For one thing, contrary to what many believe, the 4th wasn't the day that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence from Great Britain. That happened on July 2, 1776. And it wasn't the day that the American Revolution began. That had happened more than a year before, back in April of 1775.

Do you think maybe it was the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence? No, that was in June 1776. Well, perhaps it was the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain? Wrong again, kids. That didn't happen until November 1776. And it wasn't the date it was signed either because that happened on August 2, 1776.

Well then, what the heck DID happen on July 4th 1776? It was the approval date. The Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They'd been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2nd and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes.

That's how July 4, 1776 became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.)

It's also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation.

From that time on, when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date they remembered.

But if you're looking for logic and consistency within the federal government, guess what? There isn't any now and there wasn't any back then either, because we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17th of each year, which is the anniversary of the date the Constitution was signed, not the anniversary of the date it was approved.

If we'd followed this same approach for the Declaration of Independence we'd be celebrating Independence Day on August 2nd of each year, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed! Confused? Good.

And here's something else to mull over while you're stuffing another hot dog into your face. For the first 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn't celebrate it much on any date. It was too new and too much else was happening in our brand new nation.

People had other stuff to think about and more important things to do than drink beer and watch pyrotechnics. They had a country to build. Back then people had to clear the land, till the soil, fight hostile Indians, and raise eleven kids.

Today it's all about live streaming fireworks shows on line.

If you think Congress is slow to get things done today, consider this: The 4th of July didn't even become a national holiday until almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written!

Congress finally declared it as such in 1870 as part of a bill that officially recognized several holidays, including Christmas, as Federal holidays.

And last but not least, here's a little 4th of July fact that might win you a few bar bets. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on a "laptop." That's right, he wrote it on a small wooden writing desk that could fit on one's lap. No spell check, though.

Happy Independence Day.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's been a JWR contributor since 1999.