“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. 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 forever more.”
Letter by John Adams to his wife Abigail (1st July 1776).
How could one of the founding fathers of the United States get the date wrong? How could a person who lived through the events of the day, a person who was a key player in the events of the day be two days short on what would be the United States’ most important holiday?
The declaration of independence was not an event that took a few hours on July 4. It was a process that had long been on the minds of our founding fathers.
June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, read a resolution before the Continental Congress "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
June 11, 1776: Consideration of the Lee Resolution was postponed and the Committee of Five made up of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies’ case for independence. Thomas Jefferson drafted it, Adams and Franklin made changes to it.
The Committee of Five
Monday, July 1, 1776: Throughout the day, Congress debated the question of whether or not to declare independence. The debates resulted in a favourable vote 9 to 2 (with 2 abstentions). This majority vote assured that Independence was now an agreed decision.
Tuesday, July 2, 1776: The Lee resolution was adopted by the Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia. 12 of the 13 colonies (New York abstained) voted in favour. Immediately afterwards, Congress began to consider the Declaration. Congress made some alterations and deletions to it.
Wednesday, July 3, 1776: The Committee of the Whole (an abbreviation of Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union) gave the Declaration a third reading and commenced scrutiny of the precise wording of the proposed text.
Thursday, July 4, 1776: Late in the morning, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the independence of a new United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The Committee of Five took the final draft of the manuscript to John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress.
Friday, July 5, 1776: In the morning copies printed by John Dunlap were dispatched by members of Congress to various committees, assemblies, and to the commanders of the Continental troops.
Sources: Wikipedia, The Charters of Freedom