PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WHTM) — A lot of stuff people think happened on the Fourth of July didn’t happen on the Fourth of July. The “national memory” (for want of a better term) of the Fourth of July is a mashup — a rather messy mashup — of events taking place before, during, and after that date, right up to Aug. 2, 1776, and somewhat beyond.

Before we get to what happened on Aug. 2, 1776, let’s quickly review what happened.

June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Virginia, introduces the Lee resolution, which might be considered the first draft of the Declaration of Independence:

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right 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. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

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July 11, 1776: Congress set up a “Committee of Five” consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, to put together what we would come to know as the Declaration of Independence.

July 2, 1776: Congress votes in favor of the Lee Resolution and starts to go over the work of the Committee of Five. Not surprisingly there are disputes and disagreements, and a few things get scratched out, rephrased, and rewritten.

Declaration of Independence, Dunlap Broadside, 1776 (Library of Congress)

July 4, 1776: Congress approves the Declaration of Independence. A “fair copy” is signed by President of Congress John Hancock. This is then rushed to printer John Dunlap, who works through the night printing out around 200 copies of the declaration. (The “Dunlap Broadsides,” of which only about 30 now exist, are “if-you-find-one-in-your-attic-you just-became-a-millionaire” valuable.)

July 5, 1776: John Hancock starts sending out the broadsides. One is pasted into the Congress’ journal; others are sent far and wide, including one to George Washington, who has it read to the Continental Army.

July 8, 1776: In the State House yard, Colonel John Nixon. Lieutenant-colonel in the Third Battalion of Associators, veteran of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, commander of the defenses of the Delaware River at Fort Island, as well as the city guard, publicly reads the Declaration of Independence for the first time. The city bells ring in celebration well into the night.

July 19, 1776: Congress orders the Declaration be “engrossed on parchment.” This meant writing it out entirely by hand, in ink, using a quill pen — and no “undo” button. The calligrapher was probably Timothy Matlock, an assistant to the secretary to the Congress Charles Thomson. Congress also orders a new title, “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America.”

All of which brings us to…

Aug. 2, 1776: The Continental Congress meets to sign the engrossed parchment Declaration. It was a somber occasion — the delegates were well aware they were committing high treason (punishable by death) against Britain. Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Rush later described it as a scene of “pensive and awful silence.”

Ultimately 56 delegates signed the Declaration. (Not all of them could be there on Aug. 2, and some didn’t add their names until months later.) As President of Congress, John Hancock signed in the center, in large letters, making “adding your John Hancock” an American idiom. Then the rest of the delegates followed, in order of geographical location, signing from right to left:

  1. John Hancock, President of Congress
    (Massachusetts Bay)

New Hampshire

  1. Josiah Bartlett
  2. William Whipple
  3. Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts Bay

  1. Samuel Adams
  2. John Adams
  3. Robert Treat Paine
  4. Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

  1. Stephen Hopkins
  2. William Ellery


  1. Roger Sherman
  2. Samuel Huntington
  3. William Williams
  4. Oliver Wolcott

New York

  1. William Floyd
  2. Philip Livingston
  3. Francis Lewis
  4. Lewis Morris

New Jersey

  1. Richard Stockton
  2. John Witherspoon
  3. Francis Hopkinson
  4. John Hart
  5. Abraham Clark


  1. Robert Morris
  2. Benjamin Rush
  3. Benjamin Franklin
  4. John Morton
  5. George Clymer
  6. James Smith
  7. George Taylor
  8. James Wilson
  9. George Ross


  1. Caesar Rodney
  2. George Read
  3. Thomas McKean

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  1. Samuel Chase
  2. William Paca
  3. Thomas Stone
  4. Charles Carroll of Carrollton


  1. George Wythe
  2. Richard Henry Lee
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. Benjamin Harrison
  5. Thomas Nelson, Jr.
  6. Francis Lightfoot Lee
  7. Carter Braxton

North Carolina

  1. William Hooper
  2. Joseph Hewes
  3. John Penn

South Carolina

  1. Edward Rutledge
  2. Thomas Heyward, Jr.
  3. Thomas Lynch, Jr.
  4. Arthur Middleton


  1. Button Gwinnett
  2. Lyman Hall
  3. George Walton