July 2, 1776

Happy (real) Independence Day!

America’s independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. The night of the second the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement:”This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”

So what happened on the Glorious Fourth? The document justifying the act of Congress — you know it as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence — was adopted on the fourth, as is indicated on the document itself, which is, one supposes, the cause for all the confusion. As one scholar has observed, what has happened is that the document announcing the event has overshadowed the event itself.

When did Americans first celebrate independence? Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the new July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.

John Adams, writing a letter home to his beloved wife Abigail the day after independence was declared (i.e. July 3), predicted that from then on”the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” A scholar coming across this document in the nineteenth century quietly” corrected” the document, Adams predicting the festival would take place not on the second but the fourth.