History of Our Region
In July 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, after helping to secure the votes to declare independence from Britain:
"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 by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
The date Adams referred to was
July 2, 1776,
the day that Congress actually declared "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States" - a date all but forgotten on the American cultural and social calendar.
The statehouse bell did not ring out that day - these men hardly wanted to call attention to themselves. They gathered in secret behind shuttered windows in the mid-summer Philadelphia heat to engage in a clear act of treason against the British Crown.
On July 4, Congress edited and approved the complete Declaration. It was signed by President of the Congress John Hancock, who commented that they must all hang together. In reply, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
On August 2, most delegates signed a new handwritten Declaration, but some had returned home and would sign it later. Pennsylvania's John Dickinson, who was against separation, refused to sign. The last to sign was Thomas McKean of Delaware in 1781.