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Fourth of July facts: how well do you know your Independence Day trivia?

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation.” The Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress on the 2nd day of July, 1776, and agreed to by 12 of the 13 colonies (New York did not vote) on the 4th day of July, 1776

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Photo by: Historical society media handout

The blood of our forefathers was shed in copious amounts to secure the freedom we so greatly enjoy today, centuries later. While many see this day as an opportunity for beer, barbeques, and blowing things up, it is, in reality, a day meant to remind us of our many freedoms and our independence from a controlling Sovereign across the water. When you think of Independence Day, think of sacrifice. Think of victory won by blood. And think of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech the year prior to the Declaration’s signing.

There are quite a few pieces of trivia about Independence Day not commonly known. So, to celebrate our nation’s independence, take a look at these fun facts and find out the truth to a burning question: just how much do you, your family, and your friends, know about the Fourth of July?

The Declaration wasn’t actually signed en masse on 4th July, 1776: On 1 July, 1776, the Second Continental Congress convened. On 2nd July, 1776, 12 of the 13 colonies – because New York did not vote – voted for the motion for independence set forth by Richard Henry Lee. 4th July, 1776, Congress did officially adopt the Declaration, and the first two men signed: John Hancock, the president of the Congress, and his secretary, Charles Thompson. It wasn’t until 2nd August, 1776, most of the men signed, and many actually signed at even later dates.

John Hancock, the first signer and the biggest signature, signed with a flourish, famously stating: “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” Not all historians back the quote, but given Hancock’s political fire, it seems a likely remark.

Why didn’t New York vote for independence until the 9th of July, 1776? Because their home assembly delayed the decision of whether or not to give their delegates the go-ahead to vote favorably until then.

One signer recanted: New Jersey lawyer Richard Stockton was captured by the British on 30 November, 1776, and after months of abuse and near-starvation, he repudiated his signature and swore fealty to King George III. When he regained his freedom, he swore a new oath of loyalty to New Jersey in December 1777 – but one can’t help but wonder how valuable his oath was at that point.

One United States president was born on the fourth of July: Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, 1872.

Three presidents have died on the fourth of July: John Adams, our 2nd president, died 4th July, 1826, of “debility” which historians believe meant heart failure. Historical legend claims Adams uttered the phrase “Thomas Jefferson still lives” immediately prior to his own death; the two men had been fellow patriots but also hot-tempered political opponents. He was wrong; 5 hours before Adams’ death, Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president, passed at the age of 83, assumed to be natural causes, with the actual cause hotly contested by historians. Our 5th president, James Monroe, died on 4th July, 1831, from tuberculosis and heart failure.

Presidential death near-misses on the 4th of July include our 12th president, Zachary Taylor, who fell ill after eating a bowl of cherries and milk on 4th July, 1850, and died 5 days later, and 20th president, James Garfield, who was shot on 2nd July, 1881, and died months later.

There are multiple copies of the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson’s original copy was reproduced by the “committee of five,” made up of himself, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Hundreds of copies were made by printer John Dunlap on, yes, the 4th of July, but only 26 survived. Those 26 are known as the Dunlap Broadsides; of those 26, 3 are privately owned.

Yes, there is something written on the back of the Declaration, but it isn’t Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure map: upside-down at the bottom of the document’s reverse side, “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776” was penned by an unknown hand.

The signers had a wide range of ages: Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer at 70 while the youngest was future governor of South Carolina, Edward Rutledge, who was 26. That’s right, 44 years separated the youngest and oldest signers, just goes to show you, age doesn't matter.

8th July, 1776, was the first public reading of the Declaration. On that day, the Liberty Bell was rung to summon the citizenry to the reading.

9th July, 1776, a copy of the Declaration reached New York, where a riot promptly broke out. Who was the riot’s ringleader? Looks like it was then-Commander George Washington, who read the Declaration to an excited crowd with vigor and passion. The crowd then tore down a statue of George III that stood in town – well, used to stand – and later melted the statue down to make 42,000 musket balls for American forces. Then, as the revolution grew, American soldiers gave the statue back to the British, one ball at a time.

Pennsylvania had the most signers with 9 delegates.

Other countries celebrate America’s Independence Day, too, due in part to the number of immigrants they had to America in the early 1900’s: Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and, ironically, England, are among celebrators, with Denmark claiming the biggest other-country celebration of this day in American history.

The Fourth of July did not actually become a legal federal holiday until 1938. It was considered an unpaid holiday in 1870.

President Abraham Lincoln gave his 4th July, 1863, speech three days late. Citizens in Washington, D.C., were celebrating what they believed was a victory at Gettysburg, and wanted a speech, but Lincoln only gave a short statement because he wanted a full report first on the current battle at Vicksburg. Lincoln found out Vicksburg was lost on 4th July, 1863, and gave his address on 7th July, 1863.

Baseball is considered America’s favorite pastime (personally, I prefer football over baseball), and on 4th July, 1983, Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees pitched a no-hitter. But the most epic Independence Day baseball game was actually played between the Braves and the Mets, at 19 innings long and a 4am ending with the Mets winning 16-13.

President Dwight Eisenhower was known for scheduling a golf game each 4th of July, a love-of-golf record current President Barack Obama is clearly breaking.

One president wanted us to celebrate on 2nd July, not the 4th: John Adams, always opinionated, understandably wrote that “the Second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha in the History of America. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sport, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward, forever more.”

On this Independence Day, take a few minutes out from your fireworks and bbq to read the Declaration of Independence. It’s only 1,458 words long, and having those words deeply ingrained on the hearts and minds of our children is of the utmost importance. America has fought and won a revolution against tyranny before, and we can do it again.

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