11Few summertime holidays elicit as much excitement as the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day. Each year, family, friends and revelers anticipate the arrival of the holiday so they can host barbecues, enjoy the sun, listen to their favorite summertime tunes, and commemorate the freedoms afforded by the monumental events that led to the holiday’s establishment.

Independence Day became a federal holiday in 1941, but July 4th has stood as the birth of American independence for much longer. July 4th marks a pivotal moment in the American Revolution. The colonies were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III despite having no representation in the British Parliament. “Taxation without representation” became a battle cry and was one of several grievances the colonists had with Great Britain.

Conflict between the colonies had been going on for at least a year before the colonies convened in Philadelphia in June of 1776, says Military.com.
On July 1, 1776, delegates from the original 13 colonies, making up the Second Continental Congress, met to vote on Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence.

After some deliberation, on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted 12 to 1 in favor of independence from England. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer of the declaration writing committee charged with putting the colonies’ sentiments into words.

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia was one of the first people to present a resolution for American independence, and his commentary was the impetus for the formal Declaration of Independence. A total of 86 changes were made to Jefferson’s original draft until the final version was adopted. The signing of the document helped to solidify independence, and eventually lead to the formation of the United States of America.

A total of 56 delegates signed the document. Although John Hancock’s signature is the largest, it did not hold more weight than the other signatures. Rather, rumor has it, Hancock signed it so large so that the “fat, old King could read it without his spectacles.” However, the National Archives says it was also customary that, since Hancock was the president of the Continental Congress, he be the first person to sign the document centered below the text.

The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence on July 6, 1776. The first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square on July 8, 1776.

Getting to know the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is the formal document that served as the signatory colonies’ statement that they were now “free and independent States.” It also indicates the founding principles of the United States of America and is a vital document in American history.

In recognition of the original 13 colonies, here are 13 details regarding the Declaration of Independence.

  • 1. The drafted document was officially adopted on July 4, 1776, two days after freedom from Britain was approved. However, most delegates signed the document on August 2, 1776, while others signed on a later date. John Dickinson and Robert R. Livingston never signed the Declaration of Independence.
  • 2. While Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was carefully reviewed and modified by other members of the Continental Congress, notably John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
  • 3. John Dunlap was the official printer of Congress at the time. He worked all night and into the morning of July 5 to produce the large, single-sided sheet, known as a broadside. About 200 copies of Dunlap’s broadside were made.
  • 4. The University of Virginia owns two copies of a rare early printing of the Declaration. It is on display in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. It is believed the copy once belonged to George Washington.
  • 5. The original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence has been lost.
  • 6. Benjamin Franklin, George Read, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, George Clymer, and James Wilson signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
  • 7. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were hidden at Fort Knox during World War II, two weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
  • 8. Despite what the movie “National Treasure” will have one believe, the message on the back of the document is visible and reads “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”
  • 9. Richard Stockton, a lawyer from New Jersey, was a signer of the Declaration who later recanted his support of the American revolution. He subsequently swore his allegiance to King George III after being captured by the British.
  • 10. In 1989, an original Dunlap Broadside was found hidden behind a picture a Philadelphia man bought at a flea market for $4. It later sold for $8.1 million. Ultimately, 26 copies of the original prints have been found.
  • 11. The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4th, even though independence was accepted on July 2nd. The one-year anniversary of Independence Day and the celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence slipped the minds of Congress in 1777. When they remembered it was July 3rd, they planned a last-minute celebration on July 4th, and each year thereafter.
  • 12. Early on, not everyone in America was supportive of the Declaration of Independence. Partisan politics led to discord. Federalist John Adams was feuding with Republicans and Thomas Jefferson. The anniversary date of the signing was not widely celebrated until the Federalists were no longer involved in politics.
  • 13. John Trumbull’s painting “Declaration of Independence,” which was made into a lithograph replica by Ralph Trembly, hangs in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. It is a fictional depiction of the five-man drafting committee presenting their draft to Congress, and not the signing. The painting shows 42 of the 56 signees, since Trumbull couldn’t get likenesses of all involved. The men featured in the painting were never all in the room at the same time during the Declaration’s debate and signing.

The Declaration of Independence is a key document in American history, and its words and spirit are celebrated each Independence Day.

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