Independence: it’s an idea that the Founding Fathers argued about a lot. Fittingly, there is even debate about when to celebrate it.
Only one person actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, writes Rick Shenkman for History News Network: John Hancock. And his signature was just a pro forma measure, writes Snopes–as leader of the Continental Congress, Hancock needed to authenticate the document. It’s not the famously large signature that went down in history, and which was made later on a "fair copy" of the document.
This ambiguity about dates led some people to believe other dates should be Independence Day. If John Adams had his way, you’d be barbecuing and setting off fireworks a few days early. Another suggestion would move the holiday by about a month.
Here are the two most historically important alternative dates for Independence Day. Do you think either of them would be more appropriate?
The day should be celebrated with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations,” he wrote to Abigail.
As a result, the Declaration of Independence is dated July 4. “I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States,” Adams wrote.
”Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
The Founders didn’t regret their rebellion, but it did end up being celebrated on a different day than what Adams thought it would be.
Even though some Founders later recalled a July 4 signing party, most of of them didn’t sign until August 2–and some even later.
The mass signing took place on August 2, Shenkman writes. To top it off, the names of the signatories weren’t made public until January 1777, he writes. Although the signing is couched with historic importance, “The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it,” he writes.
Still, “Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote, years afterward, that the signing ceremony took place on July 4.” he writes.
But as the Capitol’s website records, the chronology of the Declaration is a bit more complex than Jefferson recalled. June 28, 1776, was the date that the it was presented to the Second Continental Congress; July 2 was the date it was voted for, writes Phil Edwards for Vox; July 4 was the date it was adopted; and August 2 was the date it was signed by the majority of signatories.
But the myth of a July 4 mass signing has persisted, in part because Founding Fathers wrote about it–even though it didn't happpen.
New details are still being discovered about the Declaration–earlier this year, for instance, a new handwritten copy was discovered in England. But it’s probable that at this point, nobody is going to change the date on which Independence Day is celebrated.