There wasn’t supposed to be a Fourth of July celebration in the vision of John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers and our second President.
But in that Philadelphia summer of 1776, having successfully argued for the Second Continental Congress to declare the United States independent of Great Britain, Adams was excited.
The day after the Congress approved the resolution declaring independence on July 2, Adams penned one of the many letters he wrote home to his wife, Abigail. He wrote, in part:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be 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 commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. 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.
Adams got his pomp and parade and his bells and bonfires—and from one end of the continent to the other—but he was off by two days.
The Congress did indeed declare the United States independent on July 2, and Adams played no small part in it. The delegates debated Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, with Adams as the lead proponent during the debate. But the delegates cut about a third of what Jefferson wrote, then adopted it on July 4. And that day, July 4, has become our holiday.
But wait! No one actually signed the Declaration on July 4. It was not until August 2 that the engrossed Declaration—in long-hand on parchment—was ready to be signed, and most of the 56 delegates put their names to it on that date and pledging “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
You can read and learn more about the Declaration of Independence on the National Archives web site. And you can celebrate July 4 with us!
For more on the thoughts of Adams, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Washington, go to the new Founders Online website.