HOLT, Fla., July 4, 2017–America celebrates its 241st birthday today with music, food and fireworks.
This day honors the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a resolution written and approved by the early founders of the United States.
In June 1776, in the midst of a revolutionary war against Great Britain, Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, called for a resolution of the 13 colonies to declare themselves independent from royal rule.
Meeting in Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress voted for independence and approved his resolution July 2 during a closed session of congress.
Between July 2 and July 4, the congress focused its attention on the draft document.
This document, now known as the Declaration of Independence, was approved July 4, 1776.
A declaration of independence
Following Lee’s proposal in June, the congress decided a formal statement explaining the resolution was needed.
It appointed a Committee of Five–Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Roger Sherman of Connecticut–who began drafting the statement.
At Adams’s strong suggestion, the committee appointed Jefferson as the principal author who got to work June 11.
Seventeen days later, Jefferson and the committee presented a draft for congress to consider titled “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled.”
After making more than 80 changes to Jefferson’s text and shortening the length by a quarter, the Second Continental Congress approved the final wording on July 4, 1776, with no opposing vote cast.
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.
Declaration of Independence
The document was copied on parchment paper and John Hancock, president of the congress, affixed his now-famous signature to it July 4.
Recognizing the importance of the document, Congress had copies made. Printer John Dunlap of Philadelphia printed about 200 copies of the document, now known as “Dunlap Broadsides.”
Copies of the declaration were distributed throughout the new nation. One was given to George Washington, which he read to his troops in New York City July 9.
Twenty-four copies of the Dunlap Broadsides are known to exist. Two of them are held by the Library of Congress, including Washington’s personal copy.
John Adams predicted America would celebrate July 2 as 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,” he said. “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.”
He was only a couple of days off.
Quirk in history
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third U.S. presidents and signers of the Declaration of Independence, both died on July 4, 1826.
James Monroe, the fourth U.S. president, also died on July 4, but in 1831, the third president in a row to die on Independence Day.