10 Facts About the Declaration of Independence
Every American is familiar with the Fourth of July holiday. It’s a day we all recognize as the pivotal moment we declared our independence from Great Britain, the birth of our country. The Declaration of Independence is the reason we celebrate with barbecues and fireworks but many of us don’t know much else about it, other than it was written by Thomas Jefferson. In the spirit of Independence Day, we’re providing a little history lesson about the Declaration of Independence, along with some interesting facts you can impress everyone with this Fourth of July:
1. John Adams refused to celebrate July 4th as Independence Day.
That’s right - the second President of the United States didn’t recognize the Fourth of July as Independence Day. Why? Because even though we recognize the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted as Independence Day, the actual vote for independence occurred on July 2, 1776. President Adams would not recognize the fourth as a result and would refuse invitations to July 4th celebrations. Ironically, both he and President Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
2. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776.
While the Declaration of Independence was adopted and finalized on July 4, 1776, the majority of the other signers actually signed it on August 2, 1776. This is for a few reasons, mainly because it took nearly two weeks after it was endorsed for the document to be “engrossed” (written on parchment in clear handwriting) and New York’s delegates didn’t receive authorization to sign until July 9, 1776.
3. Richard Henry Lee proposed the bill for independence.
Richard Henry Lee proposed the Lee Resolutions to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776; the resolution was seconded by John Adams. Lee famously declared: “That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States.” After many heated debates, Congress delayed the vote for approval of the Lee Resolution and decided to reconvene on July 1, 1776.
4. Thomas Jefferson didn’t solely write the Declaration of Independence.
While Jefferson was the primary author of the famous document, he was one member of the Committee of Five appointed on June 11, 1776, to draft a formal statement for the colonies’ case for independence. The committee members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. There were a total of 86 edits to Jefferson’s original draft by the time of its approval on July 4, but the famous Preamble remained untouched.
5. The vote for Independence was not unanimous.
When the Lee Resolution was brought again before the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, twelve colonies adopted it with New York abstaining. On July 4, 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.
6. John Dunlap printed hundreds of copies of the Declaration of Independence.
The Committee of Five was charged with making and sending copies of the Declaration to the masses on the night of July 4, 1776. They went to Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, who printed hundreds of copies that were dispatched to the Thirteen Colonies on July 5, 1776, to newspapers and local officials and commanders of the Continental troops. These “Dunlap broadsides” are incredibly rare - only 26 copies are known to have survived.
7. It took 442 days for Independence to become an accepted thought.
There were 442 days between the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” fired at Lexington and Concord to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The majority of colonists viewed themselves as British subjects, and even when fighting broke out in Massachusetts in April 1775 it was considered a civil dispute. The thought of separation was seen as a radical and nonsensical notion. It wasn’t until October 1775 when King George III denounced the colonies in front of Parliament that American colonists agreed they should become an independent nation, as they felt their rights as British citizens were being denied.
8. It was written for a reason besides just to announce our independence.
Many people know the Declaration was written, but most people never question or understand exactly why there was a need for a formal, written document. The answer is simple yet complex. If the colonies wanted foreign allies to aid them in separation, they first had to legally declare themselves independent of Britain. It was vital, though, that each of the 13 colonies come together as a single body. Each colony individually wouldn’t be taken seriously by a world power like France, but the Thirteen together as one nation would. This was groundbreaking at the time, as each colony viewed itself as a singular entity, much like the countries of Europe.
9. There are 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
None of the men who signed the Declaration were Americans, though most of them were born in American Colonies. They were all technically British citizens at the time they signed the document. Eight of the signers were born in Britain, and Richard Stockton was the only signer to recant his signature after he was captured by British soldiers a few months later. The last person to sign was Matthew Thornton, who signed it on November 4, 1776. Robert Livingston, one of the Committee of Five members, never signed it, stating it was too soon to declare independence from Britain.
10. There actually is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately for National Treasure fans, it’s not an invisible 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, as during the Revolutionary War parchment was oftentimes rolled up during transport.
Happy Fourth of July
While no country has a perfect history, the uniqueness of how our country was born 243 years ago has had a lasting impression on the world. However you celebrate this Fourth of July holiday, we hope you take a moment to look around and acknowledge how a single document, the Declaration of Independence, has defined both our past and will continue to shape our future. We’ll leave you with this quote written by Thomas Jefferson in his final letter, which perfectly expresses the purpose of July 4th:
“…For ourselves, let the annual return of this day [July 4] forever refresh our recollections of these rights and an undiminished devotion to them.”
- Thomas Jefferson
June 24, 1826, Monticello
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