Okay, so this is a few days late, but that's fitting as you'll see.
July 4 is independence day, the day we yanks decided to be a free nation, independent from the Brits -- right?
Wrong! The resolution of independence was actually voted to approval on July 2.
And guess what else?
Though we declared independence in 1776, we didn't even celebrate the holiday until 1796--some 20 years later.
Well, to start with, July 4 is actually the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which was a document explaining why the 13 colonies had already chosen independence. So, as I understand it, we voted for it on July 2, and two days later we agreed on how to go about declaring it.
Okay, but why the delay before the celebration? I think that a clue to this mystery is that in 1796 the U.S. was in the midst of what was, as I understand it, the first "true" presidential election. George Washington was a shoe-in the first couple of times, so it wasn't until he chose to step down that political parties really started fighting to get their boy in office.
1796: In one corner we have John Adams who's been Washington's VP. In the other we have Thomas Jefferson.
Now I move into speculation based on something that I vaguely recall hearing on the radio but cannot seem to confirm. I think that at this point in time (i.e., late 1700s), George Washington's birthday was the primary patriotic holiday of the nation.
Consider this from Jefferson's point of view: The entire nation focuses its patriot zeal upon your opponent's boss' birthday.
So what does Jefferson do? Well, if my vague memories and suppositions are correct, he (or perhaps his political party) starts promoting July 4 as "Independence Day", the true & proper day for our nation's patriot zeal, a day focused on our nationhood itself--rather than a day of worshiping some ruler, all king-like.
Remember, though, that Independence Day is not a tribute to the actual collective decision that the 13 colonies made to be free--that happened on July 2. Instead, Independence Day is on July 4, in honor of the Declaration of Independence, which--now here's the big kicker--was principally authored by Jefferson.
Thus, the cynical argument that I'm seeking to confirm is this: Did Jefferson and his political party successfully transition America's chief patriot holiday away from Washington's birthday and over to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence as part of a political ploy to point patriot zeal away from Adams (Washington's VP) and toward Jefferson (author of the Declaration of Independence)?
Can anyone out there confirm or reasonably dispute this?
To end on a cheerier note, here's a bit of trivia to convolute matters. Washington was born under the Julian Calendar on February 11. By the time he was president, the Gregorian Calendar was in place--under which Washington's birthday was February 22. (There were actually many bitter complaints, even riots, about the "missing" 11 days!) For a long time, people just went ahead and partied on both days.
But that's surely not trivia, is it? Heck, I'll bet that's old news for the likes of you. So answer me this, smarty pants: On July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted. But when was it signed?