If You’re Gonna Move America’s Birthday, At Least Move It to the Right Date

A broadside of the Declaration of Independence.
A broadside of the Declaration of Independence.
Skinner, Inc.

Concerns about strong storms in the west and a tropical storm to the south have forced organizers to move the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular up a day to July 3. The change, announced late Wednesday afternoon, was a definite bummer for folks planning to enjoy the festivities on the Esplanade for the fourth.

But if you know your history, you aren’t so bothered by this change.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2. Not July 4. No, really.

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In fact, future President John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, extolling July 2 as a date Americans would revere forever:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

So what allowed America’s birthday to slip two days to the Fourth of July? Blame it on calligraphy.

The National Constitution Center explains:

After voting for independence on July 2, the Continental Congress needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public. It had been proposed in draft form by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) and it took two days for the Congress to agree on the edits.

Once it approved the actual Declaration on Independence document on July 4, it ordered that it be sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed, with John Hancock’s name printed at the bottom. Today, 26 copies remain.

That is why the Declaration has the words, “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at its top, because that is the day the approved last version was signed in Philadelphia.

So if your plan was to get drunk and light a bonfire to celebrate America’s birthday, you need to do it tonight.