The Fourth of July.
The term – the date – just kind of rolls right off your tongue, effortlessly so at that, doesn’t it?
No other date in the calendar year is identified first by its order in the month, and not the month. It’s not really July 4th, or July 4, as much as it is the Fourth of July, which this year arrives Tuesday.
And, for special emphasis, the place in the month – Fourth -- begins with a capital letter.
When we refer to New Year’s Day, it’s not the First of January. It’s Jan. 1st, or Jan. 1.
The first of the year – with no capitalization – doesn’t necessarily mean the first day of the year. It paints with a broad brush, applying to the first week or so, or even two weeks, of the new year.
It’s that way, really, for any month. The first of June is from about June 1 to 14. Same thing for the first of July. Don’t confuse that with the Fourth of July.
Decades ago, my parents moved into the home they built on July 4, but they always referenced that seminal moment in their lives by calling it "the Fourth of July."
Who knows how the term "the Fourth of July" came about. Perhaps because what was needed was a special way to say a special date. It’s our country’s birthday. It’s also Independence Day, when we can revel in our freedom from England, or any other nation.
England can refer to it as July 4th. Over on this side of the pond, we’ll reverse that order, and be proud doing it. We’re different.
But what if the date – and the order in which we say it and write it – were different, even to us. What if the Fourth of July was simply July 4(th)? What if it were the same as July 5, July 11 or July 27, just another day in a sea of 365, or 366, of them?
Moreover, what if the Fourth of July was really the Second of July, or the Second of August?
Despite the fact those dates don’t have nearly the same ring to them – they seem second-rate – they can lay claim to being the day we should actually be celebrating.
Although lore tells us that July 4, 1776, was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed by members of the Second Continental Congress, it really wasn’t. Most historians have come to the conclusion that it wasn’t actually signed for almost another month, on Aug. 2.
Then there’s July 2, when the resolution for independence was approved in a closed session of Congress. The resolution had been proposed in June by Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee declaring that the 13 colonies, soon to become the United States, be independent of Great Britain rule.
Hmm. That’s a pretty important part of the birth process of this country.
In fact, a day later on July 3, John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of the Independence, wrote this letter to his wife, Abigail:
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 acts of pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."
Adams nailed it down perfectly – except, of course, for the date.
So what really happened on July 4 to make it the Fourth of July?
Not much, to be honest.
After voting for independence, again on July 2, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision that had been prepared by a group called the Committee of Five. Thomas Jefferson was its main author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration. Members eventually approved it two days later, on July 4.
Should the official approval of a statement of independence be more important than the idea of independence, and the voting for it?
I don’t think so.
But then again, why should we be surprised that figuring out what day should be designated as the birthdate of the country was such a convoluted process? It’s Congress, after all, that was doing it. Everything’s a process for those people. They can’t agree on anything.
Well, at least some things haven’t changed in 241 years.
Before he became the nation’s first president in 1789, George Washington was still a general in the army in 1778 when he celebrated July 4 by ordering a double ration of rum for his soldiers. It might have been the first official "drinks on the house declaration," certainly not as cool as the Declaration of Independence, of course, but still cool nonetheless.
In 1779, July 4 fell on a Sunday, so the holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5. By the way, that was done for religious reasons, not to give everyone a three-day weekend.
The first state to recognize July 4 as a state celebration was Massachusetts in 1781. Now, state celebrations are held there every time the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl.
Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal workers in 1870. Congress changed it to a paid federal holiday 68 years later, in 1938. What took Congress so long?
Here’s something that will cause you to shake your head and wonder: Jefferson and Adams, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence to become presidents, both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. What were the chances of that happening?
Another president, James Monroe, a Founding Father of the nation (he helped lead the revolution) but not a signer of the Declaration, died on July 4, 1831.
Calvin Coolidge was the only president born on July 4, in 1872.
But enough reading about the Fourth of July. Now go out and celebrate it.