Happy Second of July? The story behind the battle for America’s birthday

“…the most memorable Epocha, 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 solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more..”

Not a bad description of Independence Day, right?  This is how John Adams predicted how generation after generation of Americans would celebrate our country’s birthday. It seems like he pretty much nailed it—it’s over 200 years later, and sure enough Americans from coast to coast are preparing for a weekend filed with parties, parades, concerts and fireworks!  There is just one tiny problem with Mr. Adams’ prediction: he was not talking about the 4th of July!

That’s right; Adams actually thought we would all party like patriots on July 2nd.  This was the day in 1776 that the Second Continental congress voted to break away from Great Britain and become an independent nation.  I would say that was a pretty significant day in American history.  I can certainly see why Adams would want to celebrate it!

So then what did happen on July 4th?  Well, after the delegates voted for Independence they needed to tell the rest of the country, not to mention the world, that we were no longer British colonies, but instead free and independent states.  Luckily, Thomas Jefferson had already drafted a declaration that said just that.  On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to adopt Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and so it became the date that ended up on the now famous document.  Which is how the 4th, not the 2nd, became the new nation’s birthday.

Before that historic summer ended there were a few more big events that could have just as easily been considered the American Independence Day.  For example, there is the day that the document was signed.  The problem here is that history is a bit hazy on when this date actually was, but it’s likely that most of the delegates signed on August 2, 1776.   We could also celebrate the day the new Declaration was first read aloud in public.  That was on July 8, right outside of Independence Hall.

Jenna Winterle is the Public Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center.

Comments

comments