With the July 4 weekend approaching, I’m taking a four day weekend. Come back tomorrow for a celebration of what July 4 is really all about–our right to life, liberty, and to buy as much crap as we want because we equate it with happiness.
But for today, some little known facts about July 4 and the Declaration of Independence:
- Congress declared independence on July 2, not July 4 (which was the day the actual document was approved). John Adams, our second president under the Constitution, wrote to his wife and told her he believed July 2 would become a national holiday. Boy, was he wrong. Silly Adams.
- The famous painting to the right does not, as is popularly believed, show the signing of the Declaration. It only shows the drafting committee presenting their work to Congress. Kind of a, “What do you think, guys?”
- It is generally believed that only a few people actually signed the Declaration on July 4. Some historians (counter to what Jefferson and Adams themselves stated), believe most of the signers actually added their names on July 19, August 2, or even later. Some people are always late.
- It’s believed that Thomas Jefferson actually borrowed the famous line “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” from philosopher John Locke (who actually wrote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property”). Two observations. First, most 21st century Americans do consider the pursuit of property to be the same as the pursuit of happiness. Second, it had to be the world’s greatest mind job to have some wise-cracking colonist steal your line and get all the credit, and then wake up 230 years later on some island with forty other people, have one of them kill you, and then be able to shape-shift from the likeness of a bald 50-something dude to a pillar of black smoke and know that you’ll never get off the stupid island.
- Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died exactly fifty years after Congress approved the Declaration, on July 4, 1826. Jefferson’s last recorded words are debated. Some say they were, “Is it the fourth?” Another account states he refused his doctor’s offering of laudanum, saying, “No, doctor, nothing more.” It is also stated that his last words were to his house staff, but they were not recorded. Popular history has latched onto “Is it the fourth?” because it has such meaning–that the main author of the Declaration would pass away exactly fifty years after it was approved. Adams, on the other hand, said this: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Actually, Jefferson had died a few hours before. Wrong about the day America would celebrate her independence, wrong about the metaphysical state of his former rival, and the first one term lame duck president. Poor guy. I’m sure his legacy has suffered throughout the years.
- Adams died during the presidency of his son, John Quincy Adams, who fared little better than his father. He was also a lame duck one term president, but spent years in the House of Representatives after his presidency, spending much of each legislative term sleeping (although his seat was located in the one place under the Capitol dome where you can here a whisper from any point in the Rotunda. So while many of his colleagues thought he was out cold, he was actually eavesdropping). The younger Adams did enjoy a brief acting career, portraying himself in the film Amistad. His acting, critics say, was much finer than his governing.
- My favorite pop culture reference to the Declaration is from the stoner movie Dazed and Confused. Consider the following quote from young history teacher Ginny Stroud as her students scramble out of the classroom to start the summer of ’76: “Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.” Ms. Stroud, I concur.
- Nearly 0.0000000325 percent of the American population dies each year from fireworks-related catastrophes. Please keep it safe this year. Don’t drink and blow things up.
Finally, enjoy this short mini-documentary about what happened behind the scenes of the Continental Congress during the days leading up to the approval of the Declaration.
Happy July 4!