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Why July 4? A Brief History of the Declaration

By Ethan Woodhouse

July 3, 2012. Beer, burgers and fireworks probably weren’t exactly what the Continental Congress was expecting to be the staple of the United States’ annual celebration of independence.

But 236 years later that is precisely how we Americans ring in our country’s birthday.

These celebrations of patriotism are all in good fun, but a Marist poll released last July 4 suggested that only 58 percent of Americans knew when the country declared independence from the tyrannical British King. Even more frightening, about a quarter of respondents, or 25 percent, did not know which nation we declared independence from.

The process of drafting, signing and ultimately declaring our independence was an extremely tenuous task taken up by the Founding Fathers that actually took years to finalize.

On the eve of our Independence Day the question must be raised: Why July 4?

The Committee of Five, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Livingston were selected to develop the Declaration’s draft. Jefferson himself wrote the majority of the document while Adams and Franklin served as editors (on an ironic side-note, Jefferson and Adams both passed away July 4, 1826). The final copy was submitted to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The actual liberation of the 13 colonies took place on July 2. In a closed session of Congress, our Founding Fathers spent two days finalizing the famous American documents.

Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, that day, declaring the date should live in infamy, “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.”

The official signing of the document would not occur for another month and the people were not officially made aware of the document until July 8.

Col. John Nixon read the Declaration of Independence to the public on that day at the State House in Philadelphia. The document was also read in Trenton, NJ and Easton, PA amidst loud shouting, musket shots and the destruction of various British emblems.

While the Declaration was made public on July 8, the 56 members of Congress had yet to even sign the document.

That would take place August 2, 1776. 50 men signed the document at this meeting and it took several months for the final 6 to ink their names, perhaps for their own safety.

Signers of the Declaration were committing treason against the British King and could be put to death. Luckily, the British government was dubious to the Declaration. They received the news on Aug. 30.

Thomas McKeon, a Revolutionary War hero, lawyer and politician, was the final signature on the document. Estimations for his signing range from early Jan. 1777 to as late as 1781.

So why July 4? That was the day the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, put his name on the original document- declaring the USA and its 2.5 million citizens and 13 colonies free from the oppressive rule of England.

When you go out and celebrate with friends and family tomorrow, perhaps you should share some of this history amongst each other. Food and drinks are always fun, but the history of the holiday needs to be reveled and shared.