Popular myths surround our Independence Day
You learned in school about what happened in July 1776, and think you have a good handle on events surrounding American independence from Britain. Right?
Well, if you think that was the day that America's independence was declared by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, you are wrong.
And if you think that that was the day that members of the Congress signed the new Declaration of Independence, as depicted in a famous canvas painting by John Trumbull, (which now hangs in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol), you are wrong.
And if you think that Thomas Jefferson alone wrote the Declaration of Independence, or the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was made to ring to announce independence, or that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag at the request of George Washington, you are wrong, wrong and wrong.
Here, adapted from George Mason University's History News Network as well as from some other sources, including Joseph J. Ellis' book titled "Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence," are some truths about July 4 that may be news to you.
American independence from Britain was not decided on July 4.
The Continental Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence. On the night of July 2, the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement: "This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States." John Adams thought July 2 was going to be the day future Americans celebrated, or so he said in a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. ... 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."
So what happened on July 4, 1776?
The Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, which was mostly written by Jefferson but subject to edits by the other members of the five-man team appointed to come up with the document (Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, John Adams and Roger Sherman) as well as the full Continental Congress. Franklin had first right of refusal to draft the document, and he took it; Adams also said he did not want to, so the job fell to Jefferson. He finished the first draft during the third week of June, Ellis wrote.
Americans didn't first celebrate independence until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns.
The British in London found out on Aug. 30.
Though both Jefferson and Adams later claimed the signing ceremony took place on July 4, David McCullough wrote in his biography of John Adams: "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."
In fact, most delegates signed the document on Aug. 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress; some waited even later to sign, and the names on the document were made public only in January 1777.
The Liberty Bell did not ring in American Independence.
The famous story about how a boy with blond hair and blue eyes was posted next to Independence Hall to give a signal to an old man in the bell tower when independence was declared was concocted in the middle of the 19th century by writer George Lippard in a book intended for children. The book was aptly titled, "Legends of the American Revolution."
The bell was not even named in honor of American independence. It received the moniker in the early 19th century when abolitionists used it as a symbol of the antislavery movement. And the famous crack? The bell cracked because it was badly designed.
Betsy Ross did not sew the first American flag.
It is not known who actually sewed the first flag, but it was designed by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration. Records show that in May 1780 he sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty for designing the "flag of the United States."
You may have learned that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the Fourth of July. They did, exactly 50 years after the adoption of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. The country took it as a sign of American divinity.
There is no proof to the long-told story that Adams, dying, uttered, "Jefferson survives," as Jefferson had died just hours before without Adams knowing it. Mark that as just another story we wished so hard were true we convinced ourselves it is.
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