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Joe Guzzardi What you don’t know about U.S. history — but should

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Joe Guzzardi

Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011 12:00 am

Three years have passed since with great sadness we moved from Lodi to Pittsburgh, Pa. Rarely has a day gone by when some comparison isn’t made between the two cities’ quality of life. What it boils down to is that east versus west represents the great trade-off. The weather is better in California but the quality of life is superior in Pennsylvania.

When it comes to evaluating which state has played a greater role in our nation’s 235 year saga, Pennsylvania is the site of perhaps the four greatest moments in American history: George Washington crossing the Delaware River, Valley Forge, Gettysburg and the Declaration of Independence signing.

Unfortunately, according to the Department of Education’s recent press release, Americans know little about those significant events. Only 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated “a solid grasp” of history, the weakest showing of any academic category.

Let’s see if we can use this long Independence Day weekend to get straight a few simple dates about the Declaration of Independence.

One of the most widely held misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence is that it was signed on July 4, 1776. But it was on July 2, 1776 that the Second Continental Congress approved the resolution from Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee that “these colonies are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are absolved of all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved.”

This shocking proclamation that announced the United States’ formal, legal separation from Britain led future president-to-be John Adams to predict that July 2 would forever be the day that would be “solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shows, games, sports, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other ... .”

That, as we now know, is not what happened. After two days of editing, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of Declaration of Independence. And the Fourth became the date posted on the formal document eventually signed in August and that is now displayed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

To the chagrin of the Founding Fathers, as years passed America didn’t celebrate the Declaration of Independence on either the Second or the Fourth. Frustrated by the evolving nation’s lack of interest in its short but dramatic history, in 1817 Adams issued a letter encouraging more public involvement on significant dates. Printed copies of the Declaration again began to circulate among citizens with July 4 prominently displayed at the top of the page. Then, in 1826, when both Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other on July 4, Americans once again focused on that date.

Gradually, Fourth of July celebrations became more common until in 1870 Congress passed legislation that made it and other significant dates like Christmas national holidays. Nearly 100 years passed since the Declaration was signed and it was formally recognized as worthy of national celebration.

Through a coincidence of the 2011 calendar, this year Americans will celebrate Independence Day on the Second and the Fourth.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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