July 4th is a popular date with a colorful history

Echoes of our past
William & Joy- Wangemann for The Review

Writing this column is not always easy. Sometimes my mind is just blank! Which was recently the case until my dear wife Joy stepped in with the suggestion that I write about the 4th of July. She also enforced her suggestion by waving a broom at me she happened to be holding!

Normally the columns I write are about historical happenings that take place in Sheboygan County but 4th of July is such a noteworthy holiday that we decided to devote this column to some of the historical facts surrounding the 4th. No other holiday save Christmas and Easter is more important to us than 4th of July officially known as “Independence Day”.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about just what took place on the 4th of July. If you ask most people they will tell you that it is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed by the 56 member of the 2nd Continental Congress. This was not the case at all.

It was on the 4th of July that members of the 2nd Continental Congress accepted a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and then returned to their homes in the original 13 colonies they represented.

John Hancock, who was the president of the 2nd Continental Congress, did sign the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July 1776 along with Charles Thomson of Pennsylvania who were the only two members of the Congress in the chamber at the time.

Supposedly after John Hancock signed his name in a very large bold script he said “there, I guess King George will be able to read that.”

Thomson who was present at the time of the signing said “John Hancock said no such thing, in fact he said nothing”.

The document the two men signed was a rough draft and by signing it the document became an official copy which was then sent to the printer for copies to be made, one for each of the 13 colonies. In fact, the Declaration of Independence that is on display is not the document that Hancock and Thomson signed on the 4th.

After the printer turned out a copy a few more changes were made and then the final copy was printed.

It wasn’t until August of 1776 that Hancock and the other delegates began adding their signatures to the “official “version of the Declaration of Independence (and they did so over the course of weeks and months, not all on the same day…some didn’t sign it until years later).

Congress kept the identities of the signatories’ secret for several months to protect them from being charged with treason.

Hancock and others did run a great risk for affixing their names to that document. However, Hancock typically signed his name in large script so familiar to us now. It’s been pointed out that Hancock’s name on the document appears in the middle center which some people claim he did to attract greater notice to his name. The fact is this is where the president of the congress always affixed his name to official documents. Over the years the name John Hancock has become a synonym for the word “signature”.

While doing research I came across many interesting facts about Independence Day and the Revolutionary War. I thought it might be fun to produce for the readers of this column a list about the more interesting facts about our Declaration of Independence and the people who signed it.

Yankee Doodle Dandy was sung by British officers. The song was intended to mock the rag tag colonial troops who later adopted it as a marching song.

Other countries have used the Declaration of Independence as a model document in their own governments including Greece, Poland, Russia and many countries in South America.

The Star Spangled Banner was originally written as a poem and was not set to music until several years later. The Star Spangled Banner was not declared our national anthem until 1931.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both signed the Declaration, both became President of the United States and also became bitter enemies, but in later years resolved their differences.

Both men died on the same day – July 4, 1826. James Monroe died on the same day five years after Adams and Jefferson. By the way President Calvin Coolidge was born on the 4th of July.

Independence Day did not become a paid holiday for federal employees until 1976.

During the Civil War, Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863. Vicksburg did not again celebrate the 4th of July until the beginning of World War II.

Contrary to common belief the Declaration of Independence was not directed towards King George III of England but it was meant for the residents of the original 13 colonies and the army. King George did not see the Declaration of Independence until almost a year later, but he was no doubt aware of it.

The first public 4th of July event at the White House occurred in 1804.

Thomas McKean was the last man to sign the Declaration of Independence in January 1777.

There are two other countries that celebrate their Independence on July 4th. The first is Rwanda and the 2nd is the Philippine Islands which became an independent country on July 4, 1946.

On no other day in the year is more beer sold than on the 4th of July, second is Labor Day.

According to a recent survey kids who go to 4th of July parades are more likely to become Republicans when they grow up.

Another survey showed that one out of four Americans don’t know from which country we won our independence, 74% said England, 20% were unsure and 6% named other countries.

4th of July in Sheboygan is not quite what it used to be. Referring to an edition of the Sheboygan Press from the year 1912 the July 6th edition reported that 4th of July celebrants had been unusually unruly.

Residents were awakened early in the morning by gunfire, firecrackers and boisterous groups of young people in the streets. At least two plate glass windows were shot out of local stores on 8th Street.

Over 100 patrons of the telephone company went without service for several days due to the fact that someone while firing his gun in celebration of the holiday managed to shoot down a major telephone cable.

The same edition of the paper also reported that as early as 4 a.m. people began flooding into Sheboygan from the nearby county to witness the large 4th of July parade and to await the arrival of none other than Ringling Bros. Circus.

In those days the circus traveled by rail and was so large that it required five separate trains to transport all its equipment. But the highlight of the circus arrival was when they staged a huge parade through downtown Sheboygan to the delight of thousands of people.

The paper also carried a notice apologizing to readers that the July 6th issue of the Press was so small because the employees had all taken off to watch the parade.

We would like to wish all our faithful readers a happy and safe July 4th and please don’t shoot down any telephone wires.

If you have any questions or comments contact me at 920-458-2974 or E-Mail me at wangemann@yahoo.com

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