The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence which marks our freedom from the control of a King. In actuality, it was on the second of July that the first members of the Continental Congress put their lives on the line and signed the Declaration.
That was the day Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee resolution declaring that the colonies should be free and independent was read, voted on and approved.. Even back then, however, paperwork and politics took precedence.
Though the votes for approval took place July 2, Congress then had to draft a document to properly word Mr. Lee’s motion. So, of course, John Hancock then had to appoint a committee to draft it. Fortunately, when he made the selection he chose five brilliant members of the Continental Congress to take on the task: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Four of those five men unanimously agreed that far and away, Mr. Jefferson was the best writer and should take on the task on his own. He did, locking himself in his rented room in Philadelphia and concentrating fully on covering every aspect of freedom he felt the country needed. That’s why we have such a great Declaration of Independence today.
But it still took Congress two days to complain about, feud over, edit, and even question the linguistic ability of Mr. Jefferson…..Adams was a Harvard man and wasn’t sure a William and Mary grad knew everything……
Still our first political leaders weren’t done. The Declaration had to be printed, and the first 200 copies were ordered from John Dunlap the printer. They arrived two days later, July 4, and that’s the day the first members signed the declaration they had approved two days earlier.
So in essence, it was the printer who had the final word!
Not so with Mr. Adams. The day after Congress actually voted, July 3, John wrote another one of his long and heartfelt letters to his wife, Abigail. He wrote about the pains the nation had gone through, the smallpox that had hit the soldiers, the victories in Canada, and the signing of the declaration. It wasn’t until page 3 of his letter that he told Abigail about the impact that Declaration of Independence would forever have on the nation:
Mr. Adams wrote: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
It is interesting, but not surprising, that his first thoughts were to pay thanks to God for this new freedom the country would enjoy. Thanks first, he told his wife, and then all kinds of celebrations for the rest of the day, including “illuminations” those fireworks that are so symbolic of the Fourth of July.
Then, fearing his wife would think him forgetful of what this Declaration would cost, he continued, “You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that days Transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.”
It really wasn’t until August that most of the Congressional representatives actually signed the document, and it was already 1777 before most people got to see it or hear of it.
Jefferson frequently spoke of the importance of the work he had authored, right up until his death. In the last letter he ever wrote, he penned, referring to the Fourth, “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them,”
And while both Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, if alive today, would continue to agree Independence Day should be celebrated with prayer first, then parties and parades throughout the day, it is also a day to remember both of them in a sad way.
The two friends had fought and been bitter over politics for some time, but they reunited in friendship. Both wrote and celebrated the Fourth of July every year for 50 years, whether they were at their homes in Quincy, Mass, for Mr. Adams, Charlottesville, VA for Mr. Jefferson, or Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. Then, in 1826, on the 50th anniversary of the signing, Mr. Adams lay dying at home, but murmured for his family to hear: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Shortly before, just after midnight, Mr. Jefferson, with his daughter Polly and others by his side, asked, “Is it the Fourth?” And when told it was, he closed his eyes and died peacefully. Mr. Adams could not have known, but Mr. Jefferson preceded him in death by scant hours.
Thanks John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and all the rest of the Revolutionary heroes. Rest in peace.
And Happy Fourth of July!
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