It turns out that the Fourth of July really falls on July 2nd, but, just like Christmas, it’s too late to re-educate everyone and change all the calendars, banners and songs. As important events recede in time, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of what exactly happened.

Richard Henry Lee, a statesman from Virginia, proposed a “Resolution for Independence” to the Second Continental Congress calling for independence from Great Brittan on June 7, 1776. It took weeks of debate but 12 of the 13 colonies voted for the resolution and American independence on July 2nd, 1776. This was the big deal. John Adams was so excited that he wrote his wife that “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.”

But by the time the formal copy was written and approved it was July 4th, which kind of resonated, especially since that was the date written on the declaration. Also, it was easier to work “the 4th of July” into patriotic songs because it rolls off the tongue so much easier than, for example, “born on the second of July,” which just doesn’t have that patriotic ring to it.

The formal Declaration was not an easy document to get written onto something everyone could sign. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the first draft, had a lot of trouble finding the right font in his copy of Microsoft Word. John Adams was certain he had it on his own laptop but then 

the issue of fonts for Adams’ Apple not being compatible with Jefferson’s PC came up and Benjamin Franklin was called in to tinker with it. Pressed for time, they called upon Timothy Matlack to write it by hand with a feather quill pen, sticking as much to the font “American Scribe” as humanly possible. (I just made up that part about Benjamin Franklin.)

It’s a good thing that the Congress got Matlack. He had a good record for his penmanship of important documents. Judging by Thomas Jefferson’s signature, large portions of the Declaration would have been illegible if he had put his own pen to parchment.

By the way, we’re not talking about “parchment paper” here but real, genuine parchment which is a little bit gross by today’s standards as it is really skin: calf, goat or sheep skin that is stretched on a frame and scraped of all the 

flesh and hair that usually comes standard with skin. Sometimes it was treated with lime (the mineral, not the fruit), rubbed with pumice and coated with chalk. It was wetted, repeatedly scraped and probably not all that cheap, but compared to papyrus or paper it has a reputation for lasting the longest and so it was used for the finished original of the Declaration of Independence, as Congress was hoping the new United States would last at least as long as the parchment.

By the time the document was ready it was the 4th of July and that is the date put on the Declaration, which was good enough since it would be weeks before everyone signed it and it would be 1956 before Liquid Paper and Wite-Out were invented.

All this must explain why people in my neighborhood start setting off fireworks two days before the 4th, scaring the local dogs and chickens. I had no idea that the local pyro-celebrants were so well tuned to history.

But then what’s in a date? Any time some website asks me for my birthday, I give them my “alternative birthday.” They don’t have to know my real birth date; they just want numbers to fill in the data fields. Now I get birthday wishes on this false birthday when I never disclosed it but to a few websites.

As far as Christmas goes, the birthday of Jesus was “calculated” 300 years after the Resurrection. Wow. I find it hard to recreate what happened last Tuesday, let alone how events unfolded before I was born. And, yes, I said calculated, as it was a simple matter to add nine months from the Immaculate Conception to figure it out. Conveniently, it coincided with the winter solstice pagan holidays so it eased the transition to a more Christian world.

Let’s hope that our Christian ways won’t hasten the decay of the nation. It would be a shame if the parchment of the Declaration outlasted the principles of our independence. What would we do with all those fireworks?