Eleven Things You Didn't Know About July 4th

Updated on September 20, 2019
onlyabill profile image

Bill loves sharing obscure knowledge about holidays with others.


1. Happy July 2nd!

Although we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day, the Thirteen Colonies actually broke from Great Britain two days earlier, on July 2, 1776. On that date, following months of preliminary debate, the Second Continental Congress formally voted to sever the political ties binding them to the mother country. July fourth is the day that Congress finally approved the language explaining the reasons for the separation, and it's the date of the final version of the text that appears at the top of the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams was so sure the earlier date was the more memorable of the two, he wrote his wife Abigail:

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 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.

Adams may have been off by two days, but history shows he certainly had the spirit of the thing exactly right.

John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence"
John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence" | Source

2. The Scene in That Painting? It Never Happened

You've probably seen John Trumbull's famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Among other places, it can be seen in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building and on the back of the American $2 bill. The problem is, the event shown probably never took place, at least not like that.

First of all, Trumbull's painting isn't of the signing at all. It was intended to depict the day on which the men charged with drafting the Declaration delivered the results of their work to the Second Continental Congress as a whole. Moreover, the painting contains a few people who didn't sign the Declaration at all, and omits fourteen who did.

Beyond that, there's some doubt that an en mass gathering to sign the Declaration took place at all. While Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams all verified that the Declaration was signed on July 4th, all 56 signers were almost certainly not present on that day, and some probably signed the document as late as August 2nd.

Of course, regardless of exactly when, the Declaration was signed... and the rest is history.

The Declaration Committee, by Currier & Ives (1876)
The Declaration Committee, by Currier & Ives (1876) | Source

3. Thomas Jefferson Didn't Want The Job

Everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But it turns out that he thought someone else was right for the job.

After the Second Continental Congress voted to break from Great Britain, it was deemed proper that they would formally justify their reasons for the separation in a written Declaration of Independence. The Congress selected a committee of five men (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson) to draft the separation document. Four of the five agreed that John Adams was the natural choice to write the document. Fortunately for history, the exception to the consensus was Adams himself, who convinced the rest of the committee to give the job to a reluctant Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson went on to craft words that ring down through the ages... although he did have some help from the other members of the committee.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident" is one of the most well-known opening lines to a paragraph in the history of the English language, and we have Thomas Jefferson to thank for it, right? Actually, not. Jefferson originally wrote "We hold these truths to be sacred and un-deniable..." We have Ben Franklin to thank for editing it into the final version.

Timothy Matlack, by Charles Willson Peale
Timothy Matlack, by Charles Willson Peale | Source

4. Timothy Matlack? Who?

If Jefferson ended up writing the Declaration (well, mostly), then it's his handwriting in the copy we've all seen, right? Turns out that's not the case. What we're used to seeing is the work of a man named Timothy Matlack.

Matlack came to play such a significant part in United States history from unlikely beginnings. Growing up largely in Pennsylvania, he was at various times a merchant, a brewer, and an inmate in debtor's prison. He enjoyed gambling on cock-fighting and horses, and was disowned by the Quakers for associating with unsavory characters. Rising from all that, he was hired to be the clerk of the Second Continental Congress in 1775. In late July, Matlack was given the task of copying the text onto parchment for formal signature, which is the image we see today.

Matlack's story is enduring proof that America is the home of second (and third) chances.

Drawing of the Liberty Bell, by Thomas Nast
Drawing of the Liberty Bell, by Thomas Nast | Source

5. The Liberty Bell Didn't Ring on July 4th

The story goes that the Liberty Bell rang on July 4th, 1776, to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But it probably didn't.

The problem with the story is that there was no public announcement of the existence of the Declaration on July 4th. While the text was finalized on July 4th, the first printed copies only appeared later that night. Those—the Dunlap Broadsides—were distributed and eventually "proclaimed"—that is, read publicly—on July 8th, at which time there was a public ringing of bells. There's not actually a record of the Liberty Bell being rung on that occasion, but it was a well-known fixture at the time (there is a record of citizens complaining in 1772 that the bell was being rung so often it was becoming annoying) so it probably did.

By the way, the famous crack in the bell? There's no definitive record, but the best guess is it happened sometime in the 1800s. And it wasn't actually even called the "Liberty Bell" until 1835, when it was adopted as a symbol by the anti-slavery movement.

Poll: What's Your Favorite July 4th Tradition?

See results

6. The Colonies Were Already At War

The British were so incensed by the Declaration of Independence that they declared war, right? Not so fast.

The Colonies had been at war with Great Britain for over a year by the time the Declaration was drafted. The battles of Lexington and Concord (the "shot heard round the world") took place in April of 1775. George Washington had already been appointed General of the Continental Army, and the Colonies had invaded Canada. So the armed conflict was well under way.

Nor was the Declaration the first political resort. Prior to drafting it, there were several attempts to reconcile with Great Britain, including the Olive Branch Petition in July of 1775 which, like the Declaration, was drafted in part by Thomas Jefferson. But peace was not to be for several more years.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial | Source

7. A Bad Day For Presidents

July 4th also has the distinction of being the day of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe. In one of the more bizarre coincidences of the history of the Republic, Jefferson and Adams died hours apart on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the July fourth we all celebrate.

The anniversary was certainly on both of the men's minds at the end. Jefferson, knowing he was on his deathbed, roused himself about 8pm on July 3rd and, speaking his last words, demanded to know: "Is it the fourth yet?" ("It soon will be," was his doctor's response.) He lived a few more hours, until ten minutes before 1pm on the 4th. Adams died several hours later, at 6:20 PM. Unaware of Jefferson's passing earlier in the afternoon, his last words were "Jefferson survives."

James Monroe died a few years later, on July 4th 1831, the last man to serve as President who was also a Founding Father.

The story of Presidential July 4th trivia is not entirely a morbid one, however. It's also the birthday of the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge (in 1872.)

"First at Vicksburg," courtesy of the US Army Center of Military History
"First at Vicksburg," courtesy of the US Army Center of Military History | Source

8. Union Created, Union Preserved

While the original Thirteen Colonies might have expressed their agreement on July 4, 1776, later anniversaries did not always see the country in such accord. Two of the major actions of the American Civil War happened on July 4th nearly a hundred years later, and helped shape the country as we know it today.

On July 4, 1863, following a siege of a month and a half, General Ulysses S. Grant captured the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. In doing so, he achieved what Abraham Lincoln called the key to Union victory and wrested control of the Mississippi river from the South. Along with the city, Grant captured nearly 30,000 Confederate soldiers and was credited with devising "the most brilliant campaign ever fought on American soil."

The same day, a thousand miles away on a muddy field in Pennsylvania, Robert E. Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg following a disastrous turn of events on the previous day, capped by the failure of Pickett's Charge. The day remains the bloodiest in American history by far, with a combined total of over fifty thousand casualties.

While the men and women of the Revolution rightfully get their fair share of attention for declaring Independence on July 4th, 1776, it's also worth remembering that a long line of patriots followed to preserve what they created.

George Washington in uniform of the Virginia Regiment, by Charles Willson Peale
George Washington in uniform of the Virginia Regiment, by Charles Willson Peale | Source

9. George Washington... Assassin?

July fourth wasn't always kind to George Washington. Prior to the Revolution, he was in the service of the Crown as a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia of "His Majesty's Colony" of Virginia. It was in that capacity that he helped start the French and Indian War.

In May of 1754, George Washington led an ambush against a force of 35 French Canadians who had been sent to deliver Washington a warning not to encroach on French territory. The French Commander, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, was killed during the action; whether he was killed in a fair fight, deceitfully shot while in parley with Washington, or had his skull bashed in by the tomahawk of one of Washington's native allies is a matter of historical debate. The French, naturally, believed the story that cast Washington in the least favorable light. Incidentally, it was this battle which inspired Washington's famous note: "I can with truth assure you, I heard bullets whistle and believe me, there was something charming in the sound."

Shortly thereafter, the French sent a force of 600 men commanded by the late de Jumonville's brother to answer what they saw as English aggression. The French found Washington entrenched at Fort Necessity. Outnumbered and, his cause not helped by a rowdy bunch of Virginia militiamen who broke into the fort's liquor supply and spent their time getting drunk, Washington accepted the French terms for surrender. Included in those terms were an admission that de Jumonville had been "assassinated" ... though Washington, not reading French, later denied he knew that he admitted to the charge. Washington's force abandoned Fort Necessity on July 4th, 1754, fleeing as the French rifled through their belongings.

For George Washington, defeated and branded an assassin, July 4th must have held some bitter memories.

10. Yankee Doodle? Them's Fightin' Words!

Yankee Doodle is thought of now as one of the most patriotic of songs, emblematic of the United States and the Revolution. But it didn't start out that way.

In the 1700s, Europe was the center of Western culture, and the Colonies were, frankly, something of a backwater. Naturally, English disdain for the colonists was a natural outgrowth. The origin of the term "Yankee" is unclear, but it was being used as a pejorative as early as 1758, with British General James Wolfe describing Yankees as not being particularly well suited for "either work or vigilance." Doodle seems to have come from the German word dudel, denoting a fool. Put the two together and you have an insult something along the lines of calling somebody a shiftless yokel.

Knowing a good dig when they heard it, the British set the term to music, perhaps borrowing the tune from an old nursery rhyme, Lucy Locket. The redcoats supposedly used it as a marching tune as their armies moved through the country.

The Americans, never without a sense of humor of their own, took to piping it themselves to mock the British after each Colonial victory until it turned into something of a Colonist rallying cry. It was even played by George Washington's army after the final surrender during Cornwallis’ final surrender at Yorktown, while the British offered their own musical assessment of the occasion with "The World Turned Upside Down."

Oh, and "put a feather in his cap and called it macaroni?" A "macaroni" was wig so ridiculously large that even in an era given to ridiculously large wigs, this one was thought to be a little foppish.

The Statue of Liberty under construction in Paris, 1883.
The Statue of Liberty under construction in Paris, 1883. | Source

11. The Statue of Liberty's Birthday... Sort Of

And finally we come to The Statue of Liberty, or Liberty Enlightening the World, as it is formally known. From France laying claim to part of the North American continent to their support during the Revolution, to our Revolution inspiring theirs (and helping bankrupt their country) France and the United States have a long history together.

In 1865, a prominent Frenchman and supporter of the Union during the American Civil War, Edouard Rene de Laboulaye, remarked: "If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort—a common work of both our nations," and a grand idea was born, France building the statue and America being responsible for the pedestal. Designed by sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi, the statue and pedestal attracted involvement from such luminaries as Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) Rutherford B. Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland and Joseph Pulitzer before being finished and put into its familiar place in New York Harbor.

The completed statue was formally presented to the United States Ambassador in Paris, on July 4th, 1884, in some sense giving Lady Liberty the same birthday as American liberty itself.

And There You Have It!

So... 11 pieces of July 4th trivia. How many did you know? How many will your friends and family know? It's a fun conversation starter as you're waiting on the fireworks show to start.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 

      6 years ago

      This is a fantastic hub and well worth the read. I voted up, interesting, useful, and awesome along with liking, tweeting an pinning.

    • savvydating profile image


      6 years ago

      I think I knew three of the things you listed here. Well, just goes to show you how little we know (guess I should speak for myself) about our American heritage. For anyone else who may be interested, today (Saturday the 5th) PBS is showing a nice program about how America got started. It will probably run all week long. But, you've pretty much covered all the good stuff here. Congratulations on being featured. Up & interesting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on HOTD! This was a fun and entertaining list and so appropriate for today!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Congrats on HOTD. I knew several of the pieces of information a few were new. I love American history, so I found this article quite interesting. Nice work.

    • word55 profile image

      Al Wordlaw 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      Creative story whether accurate or not. Glad there is freedom and liberty although it has to be fought for at various times. Thanks for sharing onlyabill :-)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love #10! I used to sing that song as a kid, and literally pictured a feather in a macaroni noodle. Great Hub!

    • my_girl_sara profile image

      Cynthia Lyerly 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      I love this type of history...the kind not in traditional books. Nice blog!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD!

      This was a fascinating look at some little-known trivia behind the most famous and well-recognized American holiday of them all.

      Voted up, interesting and useful; shared on FB.

    • bluebird profile image


      6 years ago

      There's a lot about this country most don't know, and most of it pertains to our heritage, who we really are, in the Bible. It's astounding, yet most are ignorant. But soon it will all come out and there will absolutely be "a brotherhood of man." I look forward to that day when eyes will be opened and hearts will be united!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I had read of some of these, but not all. Thanks for an interesting read that reminds me of how important it is to put myself in their place rather than look at historical events from the perspective of where I am in history.

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award on this 4th of July!

    • weezyschannel profile image


      6 years ago from Central USA

      Very interesting article.. A lot I never even knew. Thank you for the great information and great article! You deserved the hub of the day

    • psychicdog.net profile image


      6 years ago

      Had never heard of Timothy Matlack - such a regular guy gets a top gig!

      Thankyou sir for this timely hub.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Carlo Giovannetti 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Interesting hub. Also, congrats on the HOTD!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      6 years ago from Chicago Area

      Wow! What an amazing and timely hub for today. Congrats on Hub of the Day. Well deserved. Voted up and sharing on social media!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Number 7 was my favorite bit of information. It's hard to believe that two of our founding fathers had that close association on the same day and a third, a few years later. Nicely written and interesting. Congratulations on the Hub of the Day award. This was well deserved.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      What a great Hub to read on the 4th of July. You did a lot of research for this one; full of interesting info! Congrats on HOTD.

      I do not like the fireworks I am forced to hear on this date. My little dog hates the loud noise, too.

      Hope you have a nice 4th. of July!

      Voted UP and will share here and on Google+

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 

      6 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Well written. Informative and educative too. Loved reading this wonderful text. But I would also love to know how the U.S. citizen celebrate this great occasion. Happy July Fourth!

    • profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I agree this sounds like a great conversation starter.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks and Happy Fourth of July!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, holidappy.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)