Lesser known truths about Independents Day
Neglected forefather? No argument -- founding fathers Thomas
Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams have name recognition (it
helps that two became president). Lost in historical footnotes are the
remaining members of the so-called Committee of Five
in charge of drafting the Declaration: Roger Sherman and Robert R.
Livingston. And, even more neglected, is the man who first proposed the motion
for a breakout from Britain.
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia
was the classical yeoman farmer and a justice of the peace. The
Virginia-born aristocrat benefited from an English private school
education. At first an "indifferent figure," he later rose to the
radical occasion and became an admired orator who, according to Patrick Henry,
"reasoned well, and declaimed freely and splendidly" with a "deep and
melodious" voice. At the second Continental Congress, he put forth the
motion to cut maternal ties with Britain.
Forget firecrackers -- let's burn some effigies: Pyrotechnics
and pies are nice, but real Independence Day sticklers would fire off
some muskets, burn some effigies of English royalty (sorry, Kate and
William fans), ration out some rum, and declare war on England. Over the
last 236 years, Americans have found extravagant ways to celebrate
(many details courtesy of James R. Heintze, Librarian Emeritus of American University and author of "The Fourth of July Encyclopedia"):
—Pequoad Indians did a "wardance at their wigwam" in 1831 Virginia.
—Teetotalers threw a "Grand Total Abstinence Celebration" to commemorate temperance in 1842.
—An all-time record of 10,471 flags flew over the nation's capital for the 1976 Bicentennial.
—The shuttle Columbia unfurled the flag in space in 1992, but NASA
outdid that in 2005 by deliberately crashing spacecraft Deep Impact
into a comet.
—"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the acknowledged go-to tune but, as the Houston Chronicle points out,
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" has become part of the
musical salute. The ditty is actually about Russian forces vanquishing
over Napoleon's at the Battle of Borodino.
Credit the esteemed Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops for making the
overture an adopted American anthem in their 1974 televised concert.
Who's going to say no to 16 cannon blasts?
The occasion to fight for rights: Independence Day took on new
meaning during the abolitionist fight: New York emancipated its slaves
in 1827. Twenty-five years later, Frederick Douglass delivered his
speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" In 1876, the 100th anniversary, the likes of Susan B. Anthony read the Declaration of Rights for Women at the Centennial Celebration.
During World War I, celebrations took on an international theme: In
1918, President Woodrow Wilson spoke of an "international Fourth of July
celebration" and in New York, 40 nationalities were represented in the
"pageant parade." That same year, about 100 ships launched to help
Allied forces. Other fights for rights included the 1989 flag faceoffs,
as Americans protested the Bush administration's proposal to ban flag
[Related: The Story of John Hancock's Signature]
Off by two days? Not that we Americans didn't wait for a
government resolution as a reason to party since 1776. John Adams sent a
letter to his wife extolling the "great anniversary Festival" that
generations would celebrate with "Pomp and Parade...Games, Sports, Guns,
Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the
other." Except he had July 2 in mind, the date when the Continental
Congress approved Lee's resolution. (And this year, July 2
would've fallen on a Monday and we wouldn't have all this
Other Fourth of July myths and truths:
— King George III did not write on July 4, 1776: "Dear Diary, Nothing of importance happened today."
—Adams and Jefferson did die July 4, 1826, the Declaration's 50th
anniversary. James Monroe died on July 4, 1831, and Calvin Coolidge was
born July 4, 1872.
—Paperwork took a lot longer in those days: The Declaration's signing
didn't begin until August 2 and finished sometime in November.
—No, Nicolas Cage didn't find a map on the back of the Declaration of
Independence, because if he did, he could pay off his debts and go back
to doing good movies. The only thing on the back of the parchment is "Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776." There are, however, 26 copies (aka Dunlap broadsides) that do exist — all publicly owned saved one.
—Okay, if you really want a conspiracy coda, how's this: The Declaration's signatures are signed according to geography.
"John Hancock, the President of the Congress, was the
first to sign the sheet of parchment measuring 24¼ by 29¾ inches. He
used a bold signature centered below the text. In accordance with
prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below
the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location
of the states they represented. New Hampshire, the northernmost state,
began the list, and Georgia, the southernmost, ended it."
See Votes by State
News & Politics