by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster
As the memory of fireworks fade the day after the 4th of July, remember the date for declaring Independence from England was actually July 2nd.. A final version of the Declaration took two more days. It was the 2nd which John Adams believed would become, “the most memorable epocha in the history of America.” He was wrong.
July 4th was the date Congress approved the finalized text of the Declaration produced by the five man committee assigned to give final form and substance to the ideas and causes which had compelled the Continental Congress to action. But not all agreed. One of the committee members, Robert Livingston, believed was a far too drastic step at that time and refused to sign.
Thomas Jefferson, who we remember as the Father of the Declaration, watched his final draft undergo 86 changes, shortening the overall length by more than a fourth. Many of these changes, including his inclusion of anti-slavery language, were made over his strong objections.
Jefferson had drawn on two primary sources for his own draft. The first a preamble to the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. Jefferson's document is a restatement of John Locke’s contract theory of government, stating that governments derived “their just Powers from the consent of the people.”
On July 5th around 200 copies of the Declaration were typeset and printed in John Dunlap’s Philadelphia print shop. Copies were dispatched to various committees, assemblies, military commanders and foreign nations.
On July 6th the Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to reprint the whole Declaration.
The first public reading of the Declaration occurred on July 8, 1776 in Philadelphia.
Getting the news out to the world, especially to King George and the rest of the colonies, proceeded as rapidly as possible. News of the Declaration reached London the second week of August via the Mercury packet ship.
The London Gazette, the official Crown organ, broke the news in its Saturday, August 10 edition.
The official ceremony of signing took place a month later, on August 2. But the text of the Declaration had already been published and republished in newspapers in a minimum of twenty-nine American newspapers and one magazine.
Jefferson later said he did not intend to say things that "had never been said before." But this is exactly what had transpired and because of these events the world changed.