Happy July 2!

One of the great misconceptions in American history relates to the July 4 holiday. The actual vote for independence by the Continental Congress came on July 2. Delegates began debating the resolution for independence — offered a few weeks earlier by Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee — on July 1, and on that day, a few colonies were still balking. Those in favor of breaking from England were seeking a unanimous or near-unanimous vote, and gave the reluctant colonies a night to think about it. On July 2, after further debate, 12 of the 13 colonies voted “yes” for independence, while New York abstained, since they were still awaiting instructions from their Assembly. Massachusetts delegate John Adams was jubilant that all 12 colonies that voted had voted in favor of independence. In a letter to Abigail, he predicted: “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 … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.” Adams was prophetic, of course, but two days early. After the vote for independence, the delegates turned their attention to discussing and editing Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence — the actual document that represented the vote taken on July 2. It was the Declaration’s final text that was approved on July 4. So, today, July 2, it’s correct to say “Happy Independence Day.” To see the full text of John’s three-page letter to Abigail — both the actual letter in his handwriting and the typeset depiction — visit the fabulous Massachusetts Historical Society Adams collection online.