On July Fourth, Americans eat hot dogs and apple pie, watch fireworks, and go swimming. But what are we really celebrating? Standard answers to this question are that we are celebrating our independence or the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Well, yes and no.
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1. Independence Was Not Declared on July Fourth:
The second Continental Congress actually voted for independence on July 2. In fact, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, predicting that future generations would celebrate July 2 as Independence Day, saying, “The second day of July, 1776, will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” July 4, 1776 is significant because that is the day that Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence document, but contrary to what many people believe it was not signed on the July 4. The official signing ceremony occurred on August 2, which is when most of the signers affixed their names to the document, but other representatives signed the document throughout the summer of 1776. Finally, there is no historical record of John Hancock saying that his signature is that big so that King George could read it. It has been suggested that Hancock’s is by far the largest signature simply because he was the president of Congress.
2. New York Was Late:
When the Continental Congress declared independence from Britain the official vote was 12 in favor, 0 against. But wait, you may ask, weren’t there 13 colonies? Where is that last one? The answer: The colony of New York abstained from the original vote on July 2. New York did not decide to join until July 19.
3. It Was a States Thing First:
Independence was not something that was confined to Congress. It started out as a state and local thing. In fact, the very first Declaration of Independence came on Oct. 4, 1774 (21 months before the Continental Congress declared independence) from the town of Worcester, Mass. During the next 21 months a total of 90 state and local declarations of independence would be made. When Virginia declared its independence in May 1776, they sent Rep. Richard Henry Lee to the Continental Congress with specific instructions to put forth a resolution of independence for Congress to vote on, thus allying all the colonies — soon to become states — against the British Empire in the War for Independence.
4. American Troops Did Not fight Under the American Flag During the Revolution:
The Fourth of July is always accompanied by a lot of flag waving, but the soldiers of the American Revolution did not actually fight under the American flag. In fact, our Founders did not really consider the flag to be all that important and the design of the flag varied both in the number of stripes and in the formation of the stars. The reason a uniform flag was adopted was so that our navy ships could be easily identified when arriving in foreign ports, but the boys in the Continental Army did not fight under this flag. In fact, the United States flag was considered so irrelevant that in 1794 when someone introduced a bill in Congress to add two stars to the flag in representation of the entrance of Vermont and Kentucky into the Union many members of the House considered it to be too trivial to pay any attention to. One representative is on record saying that this matter was “a trifling business which ought not to engross the attention of the House, when it was it was their duty to discuss matters of infinitely greater importance.” In the end, the bill was passed simply to be rid of it. The Continental Army did still fight under flags, but these flags were all different depending on the regiment.
5. Our Founding Fathers Were Not Radicals:
As Americans, we like to think that what we did in the American Revolution was original and that our ideas of freedom and rights were new and progressive. But the truth is our Founding Fathers were not radical new thinkers — all of their ideas and philosophies were rooted deeply in history. Ideas of people’s rights, liberty, and social contracts can be traced all the way back through our colonial history, most famously with the Mayflower Compact, and even further through British history and English common law. These ideas can even be seen at work in the medieval era with Magna Carta first established 1215. Our Founding Fathers sought independence in order to preserve their “natural-born rights as Englishmen.” Though it is true no colony had ever succeeded from the mother country before and the British were quick to call it treason, everything our Founders did was, in fact, legal. Jefferson himself explains that the Declaration was not meant to express anything new. He said it was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject.”