Every American recognizes the Fourth of July holiday as the pivotal moment the thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and the birth of our nation. The Declaration of Independence formalized our separation from British rule, and contains one of the most profound lines in human history:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are imbued by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Here are ten interesting facts to impress your friends this Fourth of July:
1. TheDeclaration of Independence had 56 signers
Though most of the signers of the Declaration were born in the colonies, none of them were Americans, they were all British citizens at the time they signed. Eight of the signers were born in Britain. The last person to sign was Matthew Thornton, who signed on November4, 1776. Robert Livingston, one of the five committee members who drafted the Declaration, never signed it, believing it was too soon to declare independence from Britain. Richard Stockton was the only signer to recant his signature after he was captured by British soldiers three months later.
2. There IS something written on the back
Sorry National Treasure fans, although there is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence, it isn’t a cipher or treasure map. Written upside down on the back of the document reads, “Original Declaration of Independence dates 4th July, 1776.” It’s believed this text was added as a label, since parchment was often rolled up for easy transport during that period.
3. It took 442 days for independence to become adopted
442 days elapsed between when the “Shot Heard Round the World” was fired to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence because the colonists viewed themselves as British subjects. The thought of separation from Great Britain was considered radical; in fact, when fighting broke out in Massachusetts in April 1775 it was considered a civil dispute. When King George III denounced the colonies before Parliament in October 1775, it was then that American colonists’ perspectives shifted, believing their rights as British citizens were being denied.
4. There was another reason for the declaration
Have you ever considered why we needed a formal document to declare our independence from Great Britain? By creating a legal declaration, the colonies, at the time viewing themselves as separate entities, presented a unified front to the world, because a colony by itself wouldn’t be taken seriously by potential allies. By legally declaring themselves independent of Britain and as a single nation, they were more likely to receive foreign aid.
5. Hundreds of copies were printed
The Committee of Five was charged with making and sending copies of the Declaration to the masses on the night of July 4. They enlisted the services of John Dunlap, a printer in Philadelphia. Dunlap printed hundreds of copies that were then dispatched across the thirteen colonies on July 5. These copies, known as the “Dunlap broadsides”, are incredibly rare, with only 26 copies are known to have survived.
6. Jefferson didn’t write the Declaration alone
On June 11, 1776, the Committee of Five was appointed to draft a formal statement arguing the case for independence. The committee members were john Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson. Although there were a total of 86 edits to Jefferson’s original draft by the time it was approved on July 4, the now famous preamble was untouched.
7. Richard Henry Lee proposed the bill for independence
The momentum the coalesced into the Declaration of Independence began with the Lee Resolution, proposed by Richard Henry Lee to the Continental Congress on June7, 1776. Lee famously declared, "...these United colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.”
8. The Declaration was signed on July 4th, 1776
While the Declaration of Independence was adopted and finalized on July 4th, 1776, the majority of signers actually signed it on August 2nd, 1776. One reason is that it took nearly two weeks after endorsement for the document to be “engrossed”, that is, transcribed onto parchment in clear handwriting. In addition, New York’s delegates didn’t receive authorization to sign until July 9th, 1776.
9. The vote for independence wasn’t unanimous
When the Lee Resolution was brought again before the Continental Congress on July 2nd, 1776, twelve colonies voted in favor while New York abstained. On July 4th, only nine colonies voted in favor of adopting the Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted no, Delaware was undecided and New York abstained.
10. John Adams refused to celebrate July 4th
We recognize July 4th as the day we declared independence because it’s the day the Declaration was adopted. However, the actual vote for independence occurred on July 2nd, 1776. President John Adams refused to recognizeJuly 4th as the official date, as a result refused invitations to July 4th celebrations. In a twist of fate, Jefferson and Adams both died on July 4th, 1826, 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
With the facts in mind, here’s the story that led to the Declaration of Independence.
In April 1775 armed conflict arose between bands of American colonists and British soldiers, as Americans found themselves fighting for their rights as subjects of the British crown.
In July of that year the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution, Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, explaining why the thirteen colonies felt compelled to take up arms against the crown, which ultimately became theAmerican Revolutionary War.
The colonists felt enslaved by the British legislature, in their view overextending its jurisdiction into the colonies by enacting objectionable policies, these listed in the declaration, such as taxation without representation, extended use of juryless courts, punitive laws meant to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their defiance in the Tea Party Protest, and the Declaratory Act, essentially declaring British Parliamentary authority the same in America as in Britain and asserted its authority to pass laws that were binding on the American colonies.
On June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies independence.
Debate was heated, but agreement was made to postpone a vote on Lee’s resolution and appointed a five-man committee to draft a formal statement justifying the thirteen colonies breaking with Great Britain.
On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence in a near unanimous vote. On July 4th, the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, largely written by Thomas Jefferson, who (it is believed) was influenced by several British state papers and the Plakkaat, one of the earliest statements of the rights of citizens to combat a tyrannical ruler.
July 4th, 2022, marks the 247th anniversary of America’s independence from tyrannical rule. It’s fitting then, that in addition to the cookouts, picnics and fireworks displays, we return to Jefferson’s writings, remember where we began and how far we’ve come, lest we forget the cost of freedom and the sacrifices freedom sometimes demands.