Independence Day Trivia
July 4, 2014
In Skeptoid fashion I thought I would celebrate the 4th of July Holiday in the United States with a quick list of some "facts" surrounding the history of the holiday. Some will be true, some are false, but all are widely recognized.
For Skeptoid readers unfamiliar with the holiday (via Wikipedia):
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain (now officially known as the United Kingdom). Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the National Day of the United States.Let's Begin:
The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776: Sort of True
The Declaration of Independence was distributed to the states on that date and was dated the 4th, but it was actually "declared" in a closed session of the Continental Congress on July 2nd. Most historians now believe that many signatories signed it as late as August 2nd. Many notable participants, such as Thomas Jefferson, later claimed to have signed it on the 4th of July, though most did not.
John Hancock was the first to sign the Declaration: 100% True
Although there is a strong and persistent myth that he signed his large, bold autograph to either challenge King George in some way, or to encourage others to sign and not shy away, the real reason is less impressive. Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress and he signed first into an empty space with plenty of room.
4th of July marks the start of the Revolutionary War: False
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the start of the Revolutionary War. They took place more than a year before the Declaration of Independence in April 1775. The Declaration of Independence allowed foreign governments like France to assist in the war. Prior to the winter of 1775 people thought that the war could end without separation from Great Britain. The declaration was minimized by the British when it was published, dismissed as a trivial document signed by a few disgruntled colonists. It was not viewed by either side as the start of the conflict.
The Liberty Bell was cracked by being rung after the Continental Congress voted for independence: False
No immediate announcement was made of the Second Continental Congress's vote for independence, and thus the bell could not have rung on July 4, 1776, at least not for any reason related to that vote. The myth stems from an 1847 short story by fiction-writer George Lippard, claiming that an aged bell-ringer rang it on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Second Continental Congress's vote for independence.
The 4th of July is the Nation's birthday: False
Factually the United States of America was actually formed on March 1, 1781, with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation, which provided for a President but specified no duties. Some would argue that the adoption of the Constitution in March 1789 was the true birth of the nation along with the election of President Washington. These events were years after the Declaration of Independence was ratified.
It can be said that the Signing of the Declaration of Independence formalized the end of colonial reconciliation with British rule, it started the country on road to self rule. The preamble to the Declaration is one of the more compelling statements for personal liberty to that time, albeit one plagued by the cultural limitations of the era including religious and sexist themes. Still, it contains these compelling and memorable words from the beginning of the second paragraph:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.Happy Fourth of July!
US National archives
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