10 Facts About the Declaration of Independence

APS shares a little history lesson on the Declaration of Independence, and to help you learn some interesting facts to impress everyone this Fourth of July.

10 Facts About the Declaration of Independence

Every American is familiar with the Fourth of July holiday. It’s a day we all recognize as the pivotal moment we declared our independence from Great Britain, and our country was born. The Declaration of Independence is the reason we celebrate every year, and contains some of the most important lines in American history:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.

As famous as these lines are, many of us don’t know much behind how this document was created. In the spirit of Independence Day, we’re providing a history lesson about the Declaration of Independence. Here are ten facts you can use to impress everyone this Fourth of July:
John Adams Portrait

1. John Adams refused to celebrate July 4th as Independence Day.

We recognize July 4 as the Declaration of Independence’s data because it’s the day it was adopted. However, the actual vote for independence occurred on July 2, 1776. President Adams would not recognize the fourth as a result and refused invitations to July 4th celebrations. Coincidentally, both he and President Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

2. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776.

While the Declaration of Independence was adopted and finalized on July 4, 1776, the majority of the other signers actually signed it on August 2, 1776. One reason is that it took nearly two weeks after it was endorsed for the document to be “engrossed” (written on parchment in clear handwriting). Another reason it took so long to be signed is that New York’s delegates didn’t receive authorization to sign until July 9, 1776.

3. Richard Henry Lee proposed the bill for Independence.

Richard Henry Lee proposed the Lee Resolution to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, and they were seconded by John Adams. It was the earliest form of a declaration of independence. In them, Lee famously declared: “That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States.” After many heated debates, Congress delayed the vote for approval of the Lee Resolution and decided to reconvene on July 1, 1776.

4. Thomas Jefferson didn’t write the Declaration of Independence alone.

While Jefferson was the primary author, he wasn’t alone in writing the Declaration. The Committee of Five was appointed on June 11, 1776, to draft a formal statement for the colonies’ case for independence. The committee members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

There were a total of 86 edits to Jefferson’s original draft by the time of its approval on July 4, but the famous Preamble remained untouched.

Writing The Declaration of Independence

5. The vote for Independence was not unanimous.

When the Lee Resolution was brought again before the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, twelve colonies adopted it with New York abstaining. On July 4, only nine colonies voted in favor of adopting the Declaration of Independence. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted No, Delaware was Undecided and New York Abstained.

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6. John Dunlap printed hundreds of copies of the Declaration of Independence.

The Committee of Five was charged with making and sending copies of the Declaration to the masses on the night of July 4, 1776. They went to Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, who printed hundreds of copies that were dispatched across the Thirteen Colonies on July 5, 1776. These “Dunlap broadsides” are incredibly rare, and only 26 copies are known to have survived.
Paul Revere's Midnight Ride

7. It took 442 days for Independence to become an accepted thought.

There were 442 days between the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” fired at Lexington and Concord to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The majority of colonists viewed themselves as British subjects. In fact, when fighting broke out in Massachusetts in April 1775, it was considered a civil dispute. The thought of separation was seen as a radical notion.

This remained true until King George III denounced the colonies in front of Parliament in October of 1775. It was then that American colonists agreed they should become an independent nation, as they felt their rights as British citizens were being denied.

8. It was written for a reason besides announcing our independence.

Many people know the Declaration was written, but most people never question or understand exactly why there was a need for a formal document. The answer is simple yet complex. If the colonies wanted foreign allies to aid them in separation, they first had to legally declare themselves independent of Britain.

It was vital that each of the 13 colonies come together as a single body. A colony by itself wouldn’t be taken seriously by a world power like France, but the Thirteen together as one nation would. This was groundbreaking at the time, as each colony viewed itself as a singular entity, much like the countries of Europe.

9. There are 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

None of the men who signed the Declaration were Americans, though most of them were born in Colonies. They were all technically British citizens at the time they signed the document. Eight of the signers were born in Britain. Richard Stockton was the only signer to recant his signature after he was captured by British soldiers a few months later.

The last person to sign was Matthew Thornton, who signed it on November 4, 1776. Robert Livingston, one of the Committee of Five members, never signed it, stating it was too soon to declare independence from Britain.

Signing Of The Declaration of Independence

10. There actually is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

Unfortunately for National Treasure fans, it’s not an invisible treasure map. Written upside down on the back of the document reads: “Original Declaration of Independence dates 4th July 1776.” It’s believed this text was added as a label, as parchment was oftentimes rolled up for transport during the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

June 24, 1826, Monticello
Written in his final letter

…For ourselves, let the annual return of this day [July 4] forever refresh our recollections of these rights and an undiminished devotion to them.

Happy Fourth of July

No country in the world has a perfect history. However, the story of how the United States of America was born 244 years ago has left a lasting impression on the world. While you celebrate this Fourth of July holiday, take a moment to acknowledge how a single document has defined both our past and continues to shape our future.