This Sunday marks the 245th anniversary of Independence Day, a day celebrating America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Here are five facts you should know about our country’s founding document and the observance of its commemoration.
- Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4. But July 4, 1776, was not the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (that occurred on July 2, 1776). Nor was it the day that the American Revolution began (that happened in April 1775), the day when the Declaration of Independence was delivered to Great Britain (that wasn’t until November 1776), or the date it was signed (Aug. 2, 1776). July 4 was merely the day when the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence.
- The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776, the day the Declaration was first made public. Over the next two decades, though, few people celebrated Independence Day on that date. Celebrations became more common after the War of 1812 until about 1870, when Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday. The July 4 date stuck because printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate in the 1800s with the date of “July 4, 1776” listed at the top.
- When it was approved on July 4, 1776, the Declaration did not include all 56 signatures, since most of the men were not present in the same room at the time. The official signing event took place on August 2, 1776, when 50 men signed the document. Several months passed before all 56 signatures were in place. The last man to sign, Thomas McKean, did so in January of 1777, seven months after the document was approved by Congress. Robert R. Livingston, one of the five original drafters, never signed it at all since he believed it was too soon to declare independence.
- The signed copy of the Declaration is the official, but not the original, document. The approved Declaration was printed on July 5, and a copy was attached to the “rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th.” These printed copies were signed only by John Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Congress. Copies were distributed to state assemblies and conventions, and even to the commanding officers of the Continental troops. On July 19, Congress ordered that the Declaration be copied by hand with a new title, “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America,” and “that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.”
- While the U.S. Constitution makes no reference to God, the Declaration includes three such references: “their Creator,” “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The document also makes two references that tie natural law to God. Although the primary author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was not a Christian, he had studied the work of Henry de Bracton, an English jurist and natural law proponent. Bracton has been referred to as the “father of common law” and is said to have “succeeded in formulating a truly Christian philosophy of law.”