13 Things you never knew about Independence Day

Jul 1, 2013 at 7:00 a.m. ET

We all love to celebrate Independence Day, but what really led up to all of our picnics, fireworks and concerts? Here's how it all began, with surprising details about the document that started America's freedom.

Delcaration of Independence



The Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on July 4, 1776. Although Congress officially adopted it on that date, it was almost another month before the signing took place. Most of the delegates signed on August 2. Two of them, John Dickinson and Robert R. Livingston, never signed it at all. Dickinson thought reconciliation with Britain was still possible; Livingston thought the declaration was premature.


When the news of the declaration reached New York, it started a riot. When George Washington read the document aloud outside City Hall, the rowdy crowd cheered and later tore down a nearby statue of King George III of England.


One signer later recanted. Richard Stockton, a lawyer from Princeton, New Jersey, was captured by the British the November after signing the declaration and was thrown in jail. After being treated harshly and nearly starved, Stockton took back his signature and swore his allegiance to King George III.


Eight of the 56 signers were born in Britain. (The two non-signers and the one who recanted, however, were all American-born.)


The first reading of the Declaration of Independence on the lawn outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia was in German.


There was a 44-year age difference between the youngest and oldest signers. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest at 70. The youngest was Edward Rutledge, a 26-year-old South Carolina lawyer.


Two more copies of the Declaration of Independence have been found in the last 25 years. (There are believed to be 26 total.) In 1989, a Philadelphia man found a copy from the original printing in the back of a picture frame he bought at a flea market for $4. It sold for $8.1 million in 2000. The other most recent copy was found in a box of papers at the British National Archives in 2009.


There is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence. It's not the invisible ink message from the movie National Treasure, but rather a message written upside down on the back of the signed document. It reads: "Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776."


The declaration spent World War II in Fort Knox. Two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the signed declaration, together with the Constitution, was removed from public display and held under guard at the fort in Louisville, Kentucky, until it was returned to Washington, D.C., in 1944.


Contrary to popular legend, John Hancock did not sign his name so large on the declaration as a message of defiance to King George III. Historians have found that on other documents, he always signed his name super-sized style. It was his trademark, of sorts.


John Adams objected to describing King George III as a "tyrant" in the declaration. "I thought the expression too passionate," he wrote in a letter to Timothy Pickering in 1822, "and too much like scolding, for so solemn a document."


The Philadelphia Evening Post was the first to publish the Declaration of Independence on July 6, 1776.


Two signers died on July 4, 1826: John Adams (second president of the U.S.) and Thomas Jefferson (third president of the U.S.).

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