The Declaration of Independence Wasn’t Signed on July 4th (and other facts you may not know)

We tapped the National Constitution Center, a private, nonprofit organization that serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, to find out a little bit more about what really happened back in the summer of 1776 (they also know a thing or two about the Declaration of Independence).

Here are 10 things you may not know about one of America’s most famous founding documents and the people who brought it to life.

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1. Is Independence Day really July 2?

Technically, yes. According to the National Constitution Center, “the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Britain on July 2, 1776, when it approved a resolution and delegates from New York were permitted to make it a unanimous vote. John Adams thought July 2 would be marked as a national holiday for generations to come.”

But …

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2. July 4 is when the Declaration was adopted

After voting on independence, “the Continental Congress needed to finalize a document explaining the move to the public,” the National Constitution Center writes. 

“It had been proposed in draft form by the Committee of Five (John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) and it took two days for the Congress to agree on the edits.”

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3. Only 6 people signed the Declaration & Constitution

“Franklin was literally among a handful of people who signed both historical documents. The others were George Read, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, George Clymer and James Wilson,” according to the National Constitution Center.

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4. But they didn’t sign the Declaration on July 4th

That’s right. Once the Congress approved the document on July 4, it ordered that it be sent to a printer named John Dunlap. “About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed, with John Hancock’s name printed at the bottom. Today, 26 copies remain,” the National Constitution Center reports.

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5. So what if you find a lost version at a flea market?

Grab it! According to the National Constitution Center, that’s exactly what happened in 1989 in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. The copy was tucked behind an old picture in a frame and it cost the buyer $4. “That version of the Declaration was eventually acquired by TV producer Norman Lear for $8.1 million.”

Image Credit: Public Domain / Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

6. So, when was the Declaration actually signed?

“Most of the members of the Continental Congress signed a version of the Declaration in early August 1776 in Philadelphia,” the National Constitution Center says. “The names of the signers were released publicly in early 1777. So that famous painting showing the signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776, is a bit of an exaggeration.”

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7. The Declaration’s association with Independence Day came from a lapse of memory

According to the National Constitution Center, historian Pauline Maier said in her 1997 book about the Declaration that no member of Congress recalled in early July 1777 that it was almost a year since they declared their freedom from the British. “They finally remembered on July 3 and July 4 became the day that seemed to make sense for celebrating independence.”

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8. The Declaration suffered from a lack of early respect

Maier also said that the Declaration (and celebrating its signing) was stuck in a feud between the Federalists (of John Adams) and the Republicans (of Thomas Jefferson). 

The Declaration and its anniversary day weren’t widely celebrated until the Federalists faded away from the political scene after 1812.

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9. The Declaration & Constitution were hidden away during World War II

Both documents were packed up about two weeks after Pearl Harbor, according to the National Constitution Center, “given a military escort and taken to Fort Knox in Kentucky, where they remained for several years.”

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10. There really is a message written on the back of the Declaration of Independence

According to the National Constitution Center, “a secret message written on the back of the Declaration is a key plot device” in the movie National Treasure,. In reality, there is a visible message on the back that reads, “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” It’s not as dramatic as the movie and experts believe it was a label added at some point when the Declaration was in storage.