It’s awkward having the Fourth of July show up on a Wednesday. But now, thanks to Google, we know what to celebrate each day from the weekend before through the weekend after. Thirteen days of fireworks, for those inclined. Call it Fourth of July Week.
(Some of what follows may not be exactly what happened, but I tried to capture the spirit of the thing.)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 27
William Floyd, the gentleman from Mastic Beach who would eventually be the signer of the Declaration of Independence for eastern Long Island, leaves his home in a horse-drawn coach for the three-day trip to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, delegates from other states have left their homes and are now arriving in Philadelphia early. All settle into inns and walk around town. For many, this is the first time they’ve been in Philadelphia. CELEBRATE DELEGATES DAY
THURSDAY, JUNE 28
Thomas Jefferson, who has been taking hot baths every day in the Philadelphia boarding house where he is staying because in the bath is where he does his best thinking, finally settles down with his notes and makes a preliminary try at the Declaration of Independence, which he had been asked to write several days before. He starts “We Curse You, You Damned King,” and then crosses it out. He will be more polite. He changes it with a very nice introduction that begins “When in the course of human events.…” He’s sweating in the extreme heat of this day, but he hopes to have the document done and at the Philadelphia State House so the Continental Congress can review it by the next day. At certain points during the day, John Adams and Ben Franklin arrive to make suggestions. CELEBRATE THOMAS JEFFERSON DAY
FRIDAY, JUNE 29
Thomas Jefferson, true to his word, delivers his Declaration to the State House in the morning and places it on the desk at the front of the hall for what then is declared to be a period of “letting it lie on the table” so the delegates of the Continental Congress can read it and take notes. They are asked to not say anything just yet but just think about it over the weekend so debate can begin on Monday. CELEBRATE LIE ON THE TABLE DAY
FRIDAY NIGHT, JUNE 29
Late that evening, a dozen or so future signers meet at the State House and have a big party featuring rum and speeches. There had been talk that the Scotch in the cabinets might be available, but when some of the delegates learn where Scotch is actually made, the contents are poured down the toilet, the bottles are broken, and the bits thrown out. One toast is “God Bless Us and Get Us Through This Alive. Make This Stick.” They all drink too much. Some sleep on the floor there. Others wend their way to their homes or the inns where they are staying. About half have arrived. CELEBRATE PARTY HEARTY NIGHT
SATURDAY, JUNE 30
Betsy Ross, who shows up at the State House—which will from this week forward be known as Independence Hall—hangs up her first flag of the United States on the wall. It has 12 stars and 12 stripes. She has not been informed about South Carolina sending a delegation. CELEBRATE BETSY ROSS DAY
SUNDAY, JULY 1
Everybody goes together to the big Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for the 11 a.m. prayer meeting. Gallons of coffee have sobered them up. They all hope God is on their side. They are on his. Their courage returns. CELEBRATE HOPES UP MORNING
MONDAY, JULY 2
Thomas Jefferson arrives at the State House early and notes that his Declaration of Independence sitting on the table has been mightily ruffled through but hasn’t undergone any changes yet. But the fireworks will soon begin, he knows. By 10 a.m., the delegates are assembled and John Hancock, who is the President of the Continental Congress, bangs his gavel. It’s begun. But just then, General George Washington dramatically enters into the hall, wearing the very elaborate and spectacular military uniform he’s had made in London. He has a sword at his side. Everyone welcomes him happily.
Hancock now asks for quiet, banging his gavel again. Soon, the stentorian tones of the members of the Continental Congress echo through the hall. One delegate says he doesn’t like it beginning “When in the course of human events….” He suggests it be shortened to “The thing is…” and someone else says it should say “unacceptable events” rather than “human events.” There are votes but none get a majority, so “When in the course of human events” stands. Several future signers seem reluctant, particularly John Dickinson of Delaware. Have we really tried everything possible? The more determined talk him out of it. Ben Franklin makes a long speech. James Madison makes a shorter but more emphatic speech. They adjourn at 6 p.m. CELEBRATE DEBATE DAY.
TUESDAY, JULY 3
The debate continues all day. Finally, around 10 p.m.—it’s been a 13-hour day—Hancock calls for each of the 13 colonies to talk among themselves and decide to vote yay or nay to the ratification of this Declaration of Independence. New York says, because they had to evacuate New York City to escape the British army the week before and not every delegate has shown up, they have to abstain. The delegation from Pennsylvania votes No. The delegation from South Carolina votes No. Delaware says its delegation is split, so it votes no. But the rest of the colonies, nine of them, vote yes. With nine votes, it passes.
With that, Hancock asks that it be made unanimous so everybody can sign, and so after some flip-flopping it winds up at 12 votes Yes, with New York still unable to vote because their people still haven’t shown up. Hancock then announces “nobody has opposed this,” which is technically true, and so unanimous it is. The Second Continental Congress has voted to declare its independence from Great Britain. The actual signing will take place on the morrow. CELEBRATE DECLARATION DAY
WEDNESDAY, JULY 4
The rum, which has been withheld until now while discussion and voting have been going on, is brought out at 10 a.m. Nobody drinks in the morning, but nevertheless, everyone toasts Thomas Jefferson, and then, in a ringing second toast, the creation of the United States of America. George Washington, who is needed elsewhere and is not a delegate anyway, leaves after making another toast. At noon, all 56 of the delegates from the 13 colonies line up facing the table where the document is and, one at a time, take the quill and sign it. John Hancock signs his name first and really big, “so the King can’t miss it,” he says. Down the street, the great church bell high up in the steeple begins to clang, but after an hour it begins to sound awful. They stop ringing it and look to see why it is doing that. They find it’s cracked. CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE DAY
THURSDAY, JULY 5
Betsy Ross arrives at Independence Hall with a thirteen star and 13-stripe flag and replaces the one with the 12 stars and stripes. CELEBRATE STARS AND STRIPES DAY
FRIDAY, JULY 6
The signers decide that three more original documents be created and signed. Everyone shows up in the afternoon when scribes have finished making these extra ones and sign them. William Floyd grumbles they should have thought of this at the signing the day before, but he stays till it’s done and then heads back to Mastic Beach. CELEBRATE QUADRUPLE INDEPENDENCE DAY
SATURDAY, JULY 7
One of the documents is presented personally to Royal Governor William Franklin in Trenton, New Jersey. As expected, he tears it up. He is then charged as “an enemy of liberty in this country” and arrested. CELEBRATE BRITISH REACTION DAY
SUNDAY, JULY 8
A Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap, is retained to come into his shop after church and create 80 copies of the document. He says that he usually charges time-and-a-half on weekends, but in this case there will be no charge at all. CELEBRATE REPRODUCTION DAY
MONDAY, JULY 9
Twenty men on horseback are assembled at the printer’s shop and, at noon, with the ink now dry, take several envelopes, each of which contains a copy, and race off in different directions to deliver one of the documents to important personages elsewhere in the land. All will be delivered by Friday, even as far south as South Carolina. CELEBRATE PONY EXPRESS RIDERS DAY
BANG! That concludes Fourth of July Week!