Today is America’s Independence Day. It celebrates the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, our formal statement to King George and Great Britain that we no longer were willing to retain our status as colonies.
There’s more than a little confusion about which event happened when regarding the Declaration of Independence, so here’s an historical timeline, Not everyone agrees on this precise timeline, but it’s close enough for a general consensus.
JULY 2, 1776: John Adams, a leader for independence, gets the delegates to the first Continental Congress to unanimously ratify the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson had written the draft document as there was general agreement that Jefferson was the best writer of the group.
JULY 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Thus July 4th became the U.S.’s official independence day, although John Adams argued it should be July 2nd, the day the document was ratified (rather than the 4th on which it was signed). But Adams argued about everything.
JULY 4, 1776 through August 2, 1776: Following its signing on July 4th, the Continental Congress announced the Declaration of Independence. It is distributed and read across the colonies. The process of reading the Declaration — getting the official word out — was not instant. It took about a month.
By August, a more attractive document displaying all the delegates’ signatures had been produced. In any case, whether or not the colonists had read or heard the document read, everyone knew what was happening. The “official word” took a month to get, but men on horseback going from town to town to tell their friends and family were faster and more thorough.
And of course people talked in pubs. Just like they do today, but without Twitter.
JANUARY 1777: The first printed versions of the Declaration of Independence for general distribution appeared. By then, the colonies are fully engaged in war.
Jefferson’s original draft, with changes by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Jefferson’s notes of the changes made by Congress, can be viewed at the Library of Congress.
You can see the most famous version of the Declaration, the hand-written signed document, at the National Archives in Washington DC. This is the version which for which the signing was completed on August 2, 1776.