Every year, we Americans come together to celebrate the Fourth of July as Independence Day. This, we believe, is our nation’s birthday. But he Continental Congress actually decided to declare independence on July 2, 1776.
The Fourth wasn’t the day we started the American Revolution either (that had happened back in April 1775). And it wasn’t the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (that was in June 1776). Or the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn’t happen until November 1776). Or the date it was signed (that was Aug. 2, 1776).
What did happen on July 4 was that the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration. They’d been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2 and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes.
Thus, July 4, 1776, became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) It’s also the date that was printed on the original printed copies of the Declaration circulated throughout the new nation.
Therefore, when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, was the date they remembered.
In 1791, the first recorded use of the name “Independence Day” occurred. But, for the first 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date.
That changed after the War of 1812, and in 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees. In 1938, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.
Today this holiday represents a day off from work, a chance to gather with family and friends, a time to grill outside and, of course, an opportunity to shoot off fireworks.
But, it means so much more.
The Declaration, regardless of when it was signed, represented the grand vision of our founding fathers who risked their lives and fortunes by signing the document. This vision represents what we are as a nation and has been the bedrock of our values ever since.
We are now in the midst of a divisive political year at many levels. This isn’t the first time America has faced these struggles, and it has been the undying belief in the principles set forth in the Declaration that have guided the county through them.
We must do so again.
Remember these words penned by Thomas Jefferson all those years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As we light fuses, eat hotdogs and drink beer, let us keep this sentence in mind on Monday. More importantly, keep it in mind as we ponder our election choices in the near future.