For most of us, the 4th of July means fireworks, hot dogs and an extended weekend. It happens to be the official birthday of America. This is when we declared our independence from British rule in 1776. Clearly, that is a day worthy of celebration. In fact, one of the original signers and the man who pushed it through Congress, John Adams, had this to say about America’s special day, “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Actually, he was talking about July the 2nd. That was the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress. They then had to send it out to the printers (Ye Olde Kinkos?) and it wasn’t until July 4th that everyone got around to signing the thing. Most of those original signers didn’t put their John Hancock on the document until August. In fact, the last signer, Thomas McKean, scratched his name on January 1777. For the sake of history, let’s stick with the 4th of July. There are some other factoids you might want to embrace if you want to be the smartest one at the big BBQ bash.
When the Congress met in “foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia” to write the Declaration, they were actually committing an act of treason. In fact, it was Ben Franklin who quipped at the signing, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” That made the 56 signers guilty of treason. After the signing, many of the Founding Fathers went off to fight in the war. Four of these signers were captured and tortured by the British and at least a third of the Continental Congress had their homes burnt to the ground.
Of that O.F.F. (Original Founding Father) group, there were twenty-four lawyers, eleven shopkeepers, nine farmers, four doctors and one minister. At 26, Edward Rutledge was the youngest signer and at 70, Ben Franklin was the oldest.
Getting The Word Out
Even as the ink was drying on the signatures, word began to spread about this important document. Back then there was no Twitter or Facebook to post the Declaration. Instead, there were several public readings. The first official reading was on July 8 in the yard of Independence Hall and yes, it was the Liberty Bell that was rung to summon the crowds. George Washington read the document to his troops in New York City while the British were gearing up for an attack. Talk about inspiring speeches. The original signed copy is on proud display at the National Archives. That display started in 1952. Before that, the document was floating around the Library of Congress. During WWII, it was locked up in Fort Knox for safekeeping.
Although the 4th of July is truly an American holiday, it is also celebrated in Denmark, Norway, Portugal and Sweden. Even England holds ceremonies around the American military bases, which is very nice of them. How will you be celebrating America’s birthday?