Fiction or Fact from Bob’s Almanac

by Robert Mason Jr.

Before July escapes us, what about the 4th?

Several folks have questioned why we continue to perpetuate the Fourth of July instead of Independence Day when referring to the anniversary of the adoption of the formal Declaration of Independence in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress.

As recorded history dictates, the Second Continental Congress adopted Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence on July 2, 1776, and followed up two days later with the approval of the actual document after rewrites and edits. The first public reading followed on July 8 and the official signing on August 2, 1776.

Independence Day? Fourth of July? July 4?

Why not America’s Birthday? Happy Anniversary, America? America Day? Second of July? Eighth of July? Second of August?

Independence Day is the only holiday more often recognized by date than by significance. Who wishes folks a merry December 25, a prosperous January 1 or a happy February 14?

I can’t speak for all, but maybe it has to do with picas, headline fonts, column width and the size of a broadsheet.

Maybe it has to do with:

• Collective public folly.

• The number of syllables in Independence Day versus Fourth of July.

• A conspiracy to undermine the followers of Founding Father John Adams who declared July 2 “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 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 appearing at the top of the original handwritten version of the Declaration of Independence, which reads “In Congress, July 4, 1776.”

• The words written upside down on the back of the first broadsides printed by John Dunlap, “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”

• Congressional action of June 28, 1870, creating federal holidays “the first day of January, commonly called New Year’s day, the fourth day of July, the twenty-fifth day of December, commonly called Christmas day, and any day appointed or recommended by the President of the United States as a day of public fast or thanksgiving,” never mentioning Independence Day by name.

• Congressional action of June 29, 1938, designating paid federal holidays “as New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or any other day declared a holiday by Federal statute or Executive order,” again never mentioning Independence Day by name.

• The U.S. Code includes “Independence Day, July 4” within the framework of legal holidays.

• At the time it was written, the Declaration of Independence may not have carried the same weight for all, and thus Fourth of July was more appeasing than Independence Day. When we read “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” did the Founding Fathers mean, and do we interpret, ”men” to include all races, sexes and social classes?

• The continuing popularity of the colloquial, or commonly spoken term, Fourth of July, since the late 18th and early 19th centuries when more often than not it was referred to as Independence Day, or even Independent Day, in literature and newspapers.

• The powers that be long ago named their annual parade “The Irvington Fourth of July Hometown Parade.”

While it goes without saying that the red, white and blue attire, the American Flag, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” parades, baseball, fireworks, speeches, and cook-outs are all part of the nationwide observance of the anniversary of America’s independence from Great Britain, there are additional reasons to celebrate the day.

Also on July 4:

• 1802, The United States Military Academy opened at West Point, N.Y.

• 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was announced.

• 1804, American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne was born.

• 1827, slavery was abolished in New York.

• 1831, Samuel Francis Smith wrote “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” also known as “America,” for Boston, Mass., Independence Day festivities.

• 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into a small cabin on Waldon Pond in Concord, Mass.

• 1847, James Anthony Bailey of circus fame was born.

• 1855, the first edition of Walt Wittman’s The Leaves of Grass was published.

• 1872, Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the Untied States, was born.

• 1881, the Tuskegee Institute opened in Tuskegee, Alabama.

• 1916, four immigrants gathered at the first Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island, N.Y., for a hot dog-eating contest to determine who among them was the most patriotic. The contest continues on the Fourth of July as an Independence Day tradition.

• 1918, Identical twins Pauline “PoPo” Esther Friedman Phillips and Esther “Eppie” Pauline Friedman Lederer, better known by their pseudonyms, Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) and Ann Landers, were born.

• 1927, American playwright Neil Simon was born.

• 1939, Lou Gehrig informed a crowd at Yankee Stadium he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” and promptly announced his retirement from major league baseball.

• 1960, the 50-star flag debuted in Philadelphia, approximately 10 months after Hawaii was admitted to the Union as the 50th state.

• 1966, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law.

• 1967, award-winning Rappahannock Record reporter/photographer/special publications editorial director Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi was born.

• 1976, we celebrated our bicentennial.

• 2009, the Statue of Liberty’s crown was reopened to the public after being closed for eight years following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

We celebrate because we can. Regardless of nomenclature, keep celebrating. Don’t ever take our independence, or those who strive to preserve it, for granted. Like the song says and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently spoke, “Let freedom ring!”

Be a rebel, celebrate Independence Day—every day!


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