In April 1775, clashes between colonial militiamen and British troops in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, began the American Revolution. Citizens of the 13 colonies were tired of English rule and rebelled against their sovereign country. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress decided it was time to declare independence from Great Britain and drafted the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, one of the signers, wrote a letter to his wife on July 3, saying this would be a day to remember throughout the generations:
“The Second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
July the What?
Adams wanted people to celebrate the day with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Two days later, on July 4, the Declaration of Independence was officially adopted at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On July 8, 1776, Philadelphia held the first Independence Day celebration, and the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time to the public, who had been summoned by the ringing of the Liberty Bell. Continuing in this tradition, every July 4, the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have the honor of tapping the Liberty Bell 13 times to represent the original 13 colonies. Adams, however, was reportedly incensed that the celebration day was not on the second and refused to attend future holiday events.
Charles Thompson and John Hancock were the only two of the 56 signees to put their “John Hancock” on the Declaration of Independence on July 4. The rest took turns signing over the month. No one knows, however, who or when put a message on the bottom of the document that reads “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th of July 1776.” Some believe it was added during the Revolutionary War because it was written upside down so that it could be visible when it was rolled up for transport – as parchment was preserved and stored at the time.
Richard Stockton, a New Jersey lawyer and also one of the signers, was the only person to recant the revolution. Not surprising, though, since – in November 1776 – he was captured by the British and thrown in jail, where he suffered years of abuse. Upon release, he discovered that his property had been stolen or destroyed, and his library burned to the ground.
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both signers of the Declaration and former presidents, were also the best of friends. However, when Adams lost the presidential election of 1800 to Jefferson, the two had a falling out that lasted a couple of decades. Adams started to regret the rift in their friendship and wrote to Jefferson, saying, “You and I ought not to die, before We have explained ourselves to each other.” On July 4, 1826, Adams died. His final words were “Thomas Jefferson survives,” however, he had not known that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier. Adams died on the very day he had refused to acknowledge as Independence Day, still sore that it had not been July 2.
The Last Two Stars
In 1958, 16-year-old Robert G. Heft used his mother’s sewing machine to make a new flag for a school project. He added two stars to his creation, earning him a B-minus. The boy argued his case, saying he put the extra stars on it because he just knew Alaska and Hawaii were going to join the Union. The teacher told Heft that if he could get White House approval of his flag, then he would get a better grade. Heft took up the challenge and sent his design to Washington D.C. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the 50-star flag, which we still have today. And yes, the teacher changed his grade to an A-plus.
Today, we like to express our patriotism in various ways, such as flying the flag on our homes to wearing t-shirts and hats with the American flag displayed on them. However, according to the U.S. Flag Code, it is a violation to wear anything depicting the flag. It states you may not sell or display any “article of merchandise … upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of [the flag … in order to] advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed.” Thankfully, this bit of law is not enforced.
Happy Fourth of July!
Read more from Kelli Ballard.
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