Most of us know that the United States’ Independence Day, celebrated on July 4th of every year, is the day in 1776 when Congress accepted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. However, this leads us to the first thing about our most patriotic Federal holiday that is rarely talked about: According to the author and historian Kenneth C. Davis, our true day of independence should be considered July 2nd, because THAT is the day Congress actually ruled in favor of Jefferson’s declaration. John Adams even wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail that he supposed July 2nd would be the date that forever was remembered as our Independence Day.
In fact, only one person signed the Declaration on July 4th: John Hancock — the man most well known for his signature. Every other signer (55 of them), except for the Congressional Secretary Charles Thompson, was already on board by the 2nd.
July 4th became the date we honor as a country for a couple of reasons. One, the actual publication of the Declaration of Independence happened then, and two, exactly fifty years late, on July 4th, 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, ex-presidents both, died in one of history’s wildest coincidences. Yet another president, James Monroe, would die on July 4th of 1831.
Jefferson’s wording for the line in the Declaration “the pursuit of happiness” was originally intended to be “the pursuit of property”. Jefferson was going to write “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” to include the British philosopher John Locke’s complete trinity, but decided to change “property” to “happiness” when inspired by yet another of Locke’s writings from 1690 which included the line “The necessity of pursuing happiness [is] the foundation of liberty.”
Our Independence Day is definitely unique in its circumstances, but there are actually a couple of other countries that celebrate their own independence days on July 4th: The Philippines’ holiday is called Republic Day and Rwanda’s holiday is known as Liberation Day.
In the U.S., we didn’t waste any time recognizing and celebrating Independence Day. The first real celebration took place just four days after the event on July 8th, when the Liberty Bell was rung and the Declaration was read aloud in public in Philadelphia. We began the yearly tradition on the first July 4th after the original event. A parade, 13-shot salute of cannon fire (one for each state), and fireworks occurred in Philadelphia. Despite the quickly-adopted tradition, the holiday didn’t become a federal holiday to be recognized by law across the country until Congress made it so almost a century later in 1870, along with New Year’s Day and Christmas Day. It took until 1938, though, until Congress made Independence Day a paid federal holiday.
Though there are some fireworks shows on New Year’s Eve every year, July 4th has that day beat by a wide margin. Not only do we go big with the controlled explosions, but we also go big on cookout food — particularly hot dogs. TIME magazine ranked July 4th as our biggest hot dog consumption day of the year: As of 2012 Americans were eating almost 160 million hot dogs on the holiday. According to Nielsen, we spend over $1.5 billion on meat in the two weeks leading up to July 4th.
As far as meats go, turkey is also a big holiday food for Thanksgiving day. But turkey might not be on the menu if Benjamin Franklin had his way. He had preferred turkey be named our national symbol rather than the bald eagle.
Another national symbol, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, has its own special lore. Though it’s been damaged for over 150 years and hasn’t been actually rung since, the Bell is still tapped 13 times every July 4th as a “signal” for other bells across the U.S. to start ringing.
Not everything is as patriotic as it could be, though. The large majority of fireworks and United States flags we see on every July 4th holiday were imported from China.
The original Declaration of Independence document was lost, and a second draft was the one signed and is now kept at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The original printed version of the Declaration is known as the Dunlap Broadsides. 200 were made, but only 27 are accounted for in the modern day. One was sold at auction to legendary producer Norman Lear for $8.24 million. Despite Jefferson’s inspiration, “the pursuit of property” is still going strong.
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