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Valle: The truth about Independence Day

Community Voice

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
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John W. Valle is supervisor of York Township

Spring is turning into summer, and with Memorial Day behind us, we look forward to the Fourth of July. While doing some research for this column, I came across some interesting facts about the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams predicted in a letter to his wife, Abigail, that Americans would celebrate their Independence Day on July 2. He was only off by two days. Not too bad for government work!

On July 2, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, signed only by Charles Thompsonth, the secretary of Congress, and John Hancock, the presiding officer. Two days later, Congress approved the revised version and ordered it to be printed and distributed to the states and military officers. The other signatures would have to wait.

For Adams, it was the momentum toward achieving American independence initiated on July 2 that future generations would consider worth celebrating, not the approval of this document on July 4.

Interestingly, the pomp and circumstances that many Americans presume took place on July 4, 1776, actually occurred days to weeks afterward.

The Philadelphia Evening Post published the Declaration's full text in its July 6 newspaper. And the Declaration of Independence was publicly read from the State House in Philadelphia on July 8. Later that day, it was read in Easton, Penn., and Trenton, N.J., and to the local militia to provide much needed inspiration against the formidable British.

The shouting and firing of muskets that followed these first public readings represent America's first celebrations of independence.

The following year, no member of Congress thought about commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence until July 3, one day too late. So the first organized elaborate celebration of independence occurred the following day, July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia.

Since then, the tradition of celebrating America's independence on the Fourth of July has continued.

And, in a strange twist of fate, on July 4, 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were fellow patriots and co-authors of the Declaration of Independence, died on the same day within five hours of each other.

As the 90-year-old Adams lay on his deathbed while the country celebrated Independence Day, his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives." He was mistaken: Jefferson had died five hours earlier at Monticello at the age of 82.

John W. Valle is supervisor of York Township.

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