Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that declared that the United States is henceforth independent from Britain, on July 4. It is a good day to celebrate this historic event despite it not being the date when the declaration was made.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration, but it went through many revisions before the final was approved; some say as many as 50 edits, all designed to make the document more persuasive and less hostile to the British. A draft of the Declaration was approved by majority vote of the delegates to the Continental Congress on July 2, not the 4th. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most Epocha (sic) in the History of America.”
Historian tell us that the Declaration was not read to the public until July 6. There was no need to sign the document since it was passed on July 2. Only two delegates, John Hancock and Charles Thomson, signed the Declaration on July 4. The greater majority of the delegates did not sign it until August 2, 1776; some even later. Four of the delegates never signed it. Those who heroically signed the Declaration knew that the penalty for doing so would be death if the British captured them.
Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration’s first draft was born in 1743 and died on the holiday of July 4 at the age of 83 in 1826. He served as the second Vice President of the USA under John Adams from 1797 to 1801 and as the county’s third President from 1801 to 1809. John Adams, who served as the country’s second President, after George Washington, was President from 1789 to 1797. He also died on the holiday of July 4, 1826, the same day as Thomas Jefferson, at age 90. James Monroe, the fifth President of the USA, from 1817 to 1825, also died on the holiday of July 4, but in 1831, at age 73. No other president followed this practice.
Thomas Jefferson wrote “The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson” in 1821 when he was 77 years old. The book is only 84 pages long and most readers would have hoped to learn more about this lawyer, a founding father of the United States, more of his ideas about Declaration of Independence than he wrote, what prompted him to be a man of the Enlightenment, his idea of a higher power that may not be a god, his true views on slavery, and more. It is also unfortunate that the book is written in a very difficult to understand manner and some of his statements seem not to be altogether true, such as his claim about slavery, because he was a slaveholder of many slaves, had children by one of them, and did not arrange to free them in his will. Yet he tells us that he served in the Virginia legislature before the War of Independence and wrote, “I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected: and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success.”
He also wrote that every member of the Continental Congress who was present signed the Declaration on July 4, except Mr. Dickinson, despite the fact that some of the signers were not members of the Congress on July 4, and this claim is rejected by historians, as stated above.