I was born on the 4th of July. I had nothing to do with it consciously, of course, it just sort of happened. But I have been the beneficiary of the good fortune of having a day off on my birthday every year.
But the thing that is amazing about the 4th of July holiday is that it should never exist. There should be no 4th of July celebrations, fireworks displays, parades, cookouts, or mattress sales. This is not because Independence Day is unworthy of a celebration, or a fireworks display, or a parade (you can keep the mattress sales). No, the 4th of July should never have been a holiday celebrating our independence from Great Britain because Independence Day actually occurred on July 2nd!
That’s right. The creation of the United States of America as a separate sovereign entity happened on July 2, 1776, and not July 4. On the 2nd of July, the Second Continental Congress, which was assembled that summer in Philadelphia, formerly adopted Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence. The resolution had originally been presented to congress in early June, but several states were unwilling at the time to vote for full independence. In the intervening period, a committee of members was assembled to draft the formal declaration, consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson, who was the primary author of the document. The declaration was presented to congress in late June. On July 2, congress voted again on the resolution and this time the delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies voted for passage, with the delegates from New York abstaining.
There were some edits made to the document that were approved two days later on July 4th, but at the time, the heavy-lifting had seemingly been done. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that Americans in the future would celebrate July 2 as their day of independence.
So why do we celebrate July 4th as our Independence Day, and not July 2nd? In a word: procrastination. In 1777, when it came time to celebrate the nation’s first year as an independent country, no one in congress had gotten around to planning anything until July 3rd, so the first organized celebration in Philadelphia took place the following day – July 4th. And the tradition stuck.
So thanks to congressional inefficiency, I – along with Stephen Foster, Neil Simon, George Steinbrenner, Ron Kovic, Geraldo Rivera, Calvin Coolidge, Ann Landers and her twin sister Abby Van Buren, Louis B. Mayer, Meyer Lansky, and Koko the Gorilla – was born on Independence Day, and not two days after the fact.
As for John Adams’ prediction, it was a good thing for him that he was off by two days as well, because in one of the strangest coincidences in American history, he fittingly died on July 4, 1826 (on the same day as fellow declaration drafter Thomas Jefferson!). It was the country’s 50th anniversary, and not 50 years and two days into the nation’s history.