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Today Is the Fourth of July

• July 02, 2013 • 12:50 PM


Congress declared independence for the 13 colonies on July 2, 1776, and they didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence until a month later.

Today is the second of July, which is the Fourth of July.

The Fourth of July, the holiday, is supposed to be a celebration of our nation’s independence from Great Britain—hence: “Independence Day.” It coincides with the creation of the Declaration of Independence. And while colonists had been “declaring” independence for a years prior, Congress actually voted to declare independence for the 13 colonies on July 2, 1776.

As John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail Adams:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. 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, from this time forward forever more.

Adams, obviously, was wrong. Congress deliberated over various details of the Declaration of Independence for two  more days—take notes, 112th Congress—and the document wasn’t finalized until the fourth. But the document itself wasn’t signed by all members of Congress, according to multiple historians, until August 2. If independence was declared on July 2 and the Declaration of Independence was signed on August 2, then why do we celebrate Independence Day on July 4? It’s the date that’s listed on the document, which, it seems, made for a lot of mistakes and confusion and tall tales that coalesced into the acceptance of something incorrect. As more emphasis was put on the signing of the document over time, July 4 sort of accidentally became the date associated with American independence.

So, want to celebrate America’s declaration of independence? Do it today. Want to celebrate the Declaration of Independence? Do it a month from today. Want to celebrate the creation of a document that was just a mere formality but not even a formality until almost a month later? Celebrate July 4.

Ryan O'Hanlon
Senior Digital Editor Ryan O’Hanlon joined Pacific Standard from Outside, where he was an assistant online editor. He is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, and his writing has appeared in Deadspin, Grantland, The Awl, New York, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

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