Above, the famous John Trumbull painting depicting the presentation of the Declaration to John Hancock. John Adams is standing on the right of the Committee of Five. Right, the Bill of Rights currently on display at Williams College.
Independence Day will be celebrated Wednesday, July 4. It is a federal holiday marking the ratification of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
Representatives from 13 original colonies, of which Massachusetts was a leader, actually voted on July 2 at the Second Continental Congress to declare their independence from Great Britain. The Declaration formalizing the decision — and giving the reasons for doing so — was written by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as the principal author. The others were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York.
Adams, author of the Massachusetts Constitution, would write to his wife, Abigail: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival."
But it would be the adoption two days later that would live in the minds of his countrymen, helped by that large date inscribed at the top of the document. It would be signed the following month. One of the signers was Samuel Adams, for whom the town of Adams (and by extension, North Adams) is named.
Williams College holds one of the few original copies in existence and hosts a reading of the Declaration each Fourth of July.
Massachusetts would become the first state to recognize the day as a state celebration, in 1781. The Congress made it an unpaid holiday in 1870 and a paid federal holiday in 1938.
Both Presidents Jefferson and Adams, friends and political foes, would die on the 50th anniversary of the signing. In another bit of trivia, Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president and former governor of Massachusetts, is the only president to have been born on the Fourth of July.
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