The Right Coast

July 02, 2004
Happy Independence Day: July 2, 1776
By Gail Heriot

Happy Independence Day, my friends. And no, unlike many of my colleagues here at USD, I am not simply starting the holiday early. In many ways, July 2, 1776 has a better claim to be called the date on which our nation was founded than July 4th.

John Adams thought so. On July 3, 1776, he wrote to Abigail from Philadelphia: "The Second Day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfire and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward and forever more."

Adams was strikingly prescient, right down to the bonfires and illuminations. But he was off by two days. He thought history would celebrate the date on which the colonies voted for independence by adopting the following resolution:

"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

Instead, in later years, July the 4th--the date on which the document we call the Declaration of Independence was adopted--became the day of celebration.

This difference has profound implications for the relative placement of Adams and Jefferson in the pantheon of our founding fathers. Jefferson is, of course, the hero of July 4th; he authored the document. But in the great debate over independence, Jefferson was a marginal player, too young and taciturn to have played a major role. Adams himself is the great hero of July 2nd. His early and unwavering support of independence helped convince his more timid colleagues that nothing short of total separation would suffice. Without him, we might well be celebrating Dominion Day instead.