One Summer in Philadelphia: The Declaration of Independence

Independence Hall in Philadelphia

One of the first dates learned in school is 1776. That summer was marked by an event that over time has been clouded in legends and misinformation.

The history of the United States is a subject for which volumes of textbooks can be written. As the United States celebrates each year of independence, it is the year 1776 that bears the most importance, specifically that summer in Philadelphia.

July 4 is traditionally known as Independence Day in the United States. It is marked by fireworks, baseball games, cookouts and carnivals. It is the highlight of summertime in every US town. As with any tradition, sometimes the meaning gets lost in all of the revelry. Likewise, myths and legends have spawned to romanticize the event.

The Importance of the Declaration of Independence

The date of independence is less significant than what the actual declaration signifies. What is important is the document itself. The Declaration of Independence is the foundation for the United States. It was the first true instrument of freedom used against the King George III of England.

The purpose of the declaration was so that once and for all, the British and other peoples of the world would know that the American colonies intended to stand as a sovereign nation. Without the declaration, the former colonists’ continued fight for independence would have seemed unjustified. The declaration also brought into existence for the first time the confederation of the colonies as the new United States of America

Were it not for the start of Revolutionary War in 1775 and the subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence, there would be nothing to celebrate. It is impossible to imagine what the world would have been like if the colonists had not broken free from British authority when they did. The fact is that by the latter part of the eighteenth century, times were ripe for revolution.

The Many Questions of the Summer of 1776

The document was drafted in June 1776. The main author was Thomas Jefferson, but a Committee of Five was charged with the drafts of the document and its eventual presentation to the Congress.

The declaration included much in the way of criticism and accusations against the king. It asserted the reasons why the United States should become sovereign. The document also spelled out how all should be given the opportunity to live with happiness and free from oppression. Today, many believe that the ideals set forth in the declaration form the basis for what one should expect in a free society.

The only accomplishment that is known to have happened on July 4, 1776 was that the Second Continental Congress accepted the declaration. On July 2nd, delegates of the Second Continental Congress met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA to approve the document. The actual adoption occurred two days later, at least that is the date most people have come to accept.

Most people are familiar with the famous signature of John Hancock. When the declaration was actually signed by Hancock or any of the other delegates is sketchy at best. It is highly regarded that no one signed it that 4th of July, but rather in the months following its adoption by Congress.

The signed copy of the declaration is on display in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Hancock’s signature is highly noticeable, as it is the largest on the document. Supposedly Hancock wrote his name so large so that King George III would not need glasses to read it; this is felt to be a myth. Hancock’s signature was most likely first as an honor for his title of President of the Congress.

The Aftermath of Declaring Independence

It was rumored that many of the fifty-six delegates to the Continental Congress ended up imprisoned, financially ruined or killed for their participation in the Declaration of Independence. While it is true that many people did suffer the wrath of the British crown, no conclusive evidence exists that links such fates to the delegates from the Second Continental Congress.

Here are some facts. In the beginning days of the United States, freedom only started with a document that stated the desire for independence. People can look to various times and places since Philadelphia of 1776 and see the same spirit of freedom being expressed. Many countries have fought long and hard just as the colonials did to form the United States.

The Declaration of Independence will always bear significance in the forming of the United States. Do not underestimate the importance of work done by fifty-six delegates in the Summer of 1776. They laid the cornerstone for freedom. People have willingly sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms that are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. That is the lesson one should remember about the summer of 1776.