On July 4, 1776, members of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to adopt the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming American sovereignty from Great Britain.
With the stroke of a pen, and a mighty resolve, the framework was built for a Constitutional Republic that would bring hope to oppressed people around the world. This was a nation where people could live without fear of reprisal for dissent and find peace and prosperity.
As Americans celebrate their 241st Independence Day Tuesday, here are some fascinating facts to consider:
• No one who signed the Declaration was born in the United States, which did not exist until after it was signed! All but eight signers were born in colonies that would become the first settlements.
• Only two people actually signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776: Charles Thomson as secretary of the Second Continental Congress and John Hancock as president.
• Robert Livingston, one of the members of the committee that wrote the Declaration, never signed it. He believed that it was too soon to declare independence.
• Nine of the signers of the Declaration died before the American Revolution ended in 1783.
• The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70. The two youngest signers were from South Carolina: Thomas Lynch, Jr., and Edward Rutledge, who were both 26. Most of the other signers were in their 40s and 50s.
• There are a few handwritten words that say, “original Declaration of Independence/dated 4th July 1776” on the back of the document. No one knows who wrote this, but historians believe the text was added as a label when the Declaration was rolled up for storage.
• Once the Declaration had been written and signed, printer John Dunlap was asked to make about 200 copies to be distributed throughout the colonies. Today, there are 26 “Dunlap Broadsides” still known to have survived. These documents are extremely rare and valuable; one sold for over $8 million in 2000.
• Thomas Jefferson, who authored the original draft of the Declaration, was unhappy about some of the edits that were made. Although he was a slave owner himself, Jefferson had included language condemning British promotion of the slave trade. This criticism was removed despite his objections.
• Jefferson changed the wording of the Declaration from “the pursuit of property” to “the pursuit of happiness.”
• On Dec. 13, 1952, the Declaration (along with the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights) was formally delivered to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where they have remained. However, the copy of the Declaration housed in the Archives is not the original draft approved on July 4, 1776. Instead, it is a formal copy that was probably made by Timothy Matlack, as assistant to the Secretary of Congress, and signed on Aug. 2, 1776.
• Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the vote to approve the Declaration. James Monroe, the fifth president, died five years later, on July 4, 1831.
• The only signer of the Declaration to survive beyond the 50th anniversary of the signing was Charles Carroll of Maryland. He died in 1832 at the age of 95.
• A fictional story written in the 1840s suggested that the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was rung after the Declaration was signed. However, historians doubt this happened because the steeple that housed the bell was in very bad condition at the time and the bell was unstable.
• Although Aug. 2, 1776, was the date of the official signing ceremony for the Declaration, these people signed at later dates: Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean and Matthew Thornton.
• Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, was born on the fourth of July in 1872.
• There are a number of places nationwide with "liberty" in their name. The most populous town is Liberty in Missouri (29,149). Iowa has more of these places than any other state: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty and West Liberty. Eleven places have "independence" in their name. The most populous of these is Independence, Mo., with 116,830 residents.
However you spend the Fourth, be safe and take a few moments to remember the rich heritage of the U.S. — a nation created with the blood, sweat and toil of men and women who were willing to risk everything for the chance to escape tyranny and live the American dream.