Some 230-plus years ago, thirteen colonies were unhappy with the mother country. So the leaders of these New World governments gathered in Philadelphia to debate, discuss and bargain. Finally, they cobbled together a unanimous vote (with one abstention–New York!). As all school children know, the momentous day in 1776 on which the colonies declared independence was July the 2nd.
July the 2nd? Wait a minute. Don’t you mean July the 4th?
No, the actual vote occurred on July 2. In fact, John Adams predicted that July the 2nd would “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 illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” (In David McCullough, John Adams, p. 130.)
Oh, well, okay, but then they actually got around to signing the declaration on July the 4th, right? So that’s when it was official.
Er, no, not really. Only John Hancock and Charles Thomson (the President and Secretary, respectively, of the Continental Congress) signed the document on July 4th. The document was not signed by the rest of the Congress until August 2. In addition, some delegates were absent that day and wouldn’t sign till as late as November or January 1777.
Then the news got out and everyone celebrated on the 4th?
A Philadelphia newspaper printed the text of the declaration on July 6, and when it was read publicly on July 8 at noon in the State House Yard, drums beat, soldiers marched, cannon were sounded and bonfires were set aflame in celebration.
Okay. I give up. So what happened on July 4th?
After debating and revising the language of the declaration itself on July 3, the Continental Congress approved the final version, again 12-0 (with New York once again abstaining) on July 4, 1776.
Our local fireworks are on July 3rd. Is it okay to see them then?
That’s just fine.