When Is Independence Day?

I am writing today since I hope many of you will enjoy a long July 4th holiday weekend.


Tomorrow, we will celebrate July 4, America’s 248th anniversary of our independence. But did you know, we may be celebrating our independence on the wrong day?


The Second Continental Congress declared American independence on July 2, 1776, even though the final wording of the Declaration of Independence had yet to be approved. That approval came two days later on July 4.


On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that one day earlier, the Continental Congress voted to declare American independence from the British Empire. He wrote, “A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States…” Adams predicted, July 2 would be “celebrated by every generation with parades, speeches, songs, and illuminations (fireworks)."


If you have ever been to the U.S. Capitol building, you will see a large painting by John Trumbull called “Declaration of Independence” hanging in the Rotunda. One would think it was for the actual document signing. However, Trumbull’s picture depicts the moment on June 28 when the committee that drafted the declaration presented its work to John Hancock, chair of the Continental Congress.


The Declaration of Independence was not even signed on July 4. Most signed the document in early August, a full month after the Congress declared independence. It took time for the final draft to be “engrossed” – formally hand copied. In fact, (hey kids...) without texting, email, or even fax machines, Great Britain did not receive the declaration until November 1776.


We celebrate our independence on July 4 because that is the day the actual Declaration of Independence document was approved and adopted -- even though the official vote took place two days earlier. In fact, after approval, the declaration was then sent to the printer, John Dunlap, who then put the July 4 date on the top of the document, copies of which were distributed throughout the colonies and beyond. Therefore, that became the date recognized as the anniversary of American independence, even though nothing of historical significance actually happened on that day.


Thus, Adams’ idea of July 2 makes sense. That was the day independence was officially decided and declared.


Interestingly, Congress did not declare July 4 a national holiday until 1870, almost 100 years later. (That same bill also recognized Christmas as a national holiday.)


The signing of the Declaration of Independence was also an important statement for Jews. The United States of America became the first country in modern history to give Jewish men full citizenship. (Women were left out at that time as they were in the country “at-large.”)


The Declaration of Independence set a vision and a hope for a new country. Even after 248 years, the United States is still a work in progress. We are fortunate to live in an incredible country that continues to offer hope and an ideal towards which we can strive.


Best wishes for a safe and celebratory July 4th holiday and an early Shabbat shalom.




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