We celebrate July 4 every year as the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed and delivered. Actually that is far from what really happened.
Representatives from each of the 13 original colonies had gathered in Philadelphia to carefully consider what is commonly believed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s final draft of a proposed declaration trumpeting the separation of Britain’s 13 colonies in America from the British Crown. It was now up to the delegates from those colonies to accept the wishes and opinions of those other delegates and carve out a whole new nation. They had worked for months developing the document which Jefferson had finally put together in a format which they all would accept.
They had also agreed that July 2, 1776 (236 years ago today), would be the day of the formal adoption of this new Declaration of Independence. In spite of the previous agreement, many of the delegates wanted a couple of days to prepare themselves for the heavy responsibility which had been laid on their shoulders.
Things like this didn’t happen every day!
They asked for a few more days to get the official consents of their colonies before they put ink to paper for their signatures. They just wanted to be very sure of their actions because they realized the terrible responsibility placed upon them before they actually signed the most important instrument ever placed before any delegates and the people they represented.
The building in which they would be meeting that day was typical of public buildings in Philadelphia. The rooms were fairly large and as well ventilated as was possible. To that end there were large windows in every room and they would be opened wide, weather permitting, on days when they would be used for meetings.
Still, not all the delegates came to sign that day. Some of them still had to clear things with their own governments, so they didn’t show up.
John Hancock signed with that flourish we still recognize today, saying that he wanted every Englishman seeing the document just to know where he stood!
There were other factors, too, some of which have been ignored in the history books.
There were many horses in Philadelphia, just as there were in most colonial communities. As a means of sanitation large barrels were placed in convenient locations throughout the colonies, where horse manure could be placed.
One of those barrels was located next to the open windows of the meeting room. The odor of horse manure and flies, mosquitoes and other flying insects filled the room to the point where it was downright disagreeable. Can you imagine that happening today? It didn’t take long for the delegates to decide to vacate the place until the windows could be closed.
This being the case August 3, 1776 was agreed upon as the day for the official signing of the Declaration. Six more delegates entered their signatures close to the one John Hancock had made weeks earlier. Over the next months and even years delegates visited the room where the Declaration awaited their signatures.
They came to put their signatures to the precious document until the last signtaure was affixed —- five years after the meeting in which a new nation came into the world.
They called it the United States of America.