It occurred to me the other day that my natural tendency is to write about the background and significance of national holidays – like last month’s column about Memorial Day. With the 4th of July, or Independence Day, coming up I thought I would research some little known facts about the holiday. Before embarking on that course, however, it probably is worth mentioning, especially for younger readers, that the 4th of July is the traditional date on which the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia declaring our independence from Great Britain. The original document exists today in the National Archives in Washington. The first signer was John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. His name is written larger than any of the other signers of the Declaration. When asked why he signed his name so large he is supposed to have said, “So Fat George can read it without his spectacles!” (Fat George is a reference to George III, King of England who was the reigning monarch at the time.

Now, on to some interesting facts about Independence Day!

Congress made Independence Day an official unpaid holiday for federal employees in 1870. In 1938, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.

Speaking of John Hancock, he was the only member of the Continental Congress who actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. All the others signed at later dates. The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men from 13 colonies.

The average age of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence was 45. The youngest was Thomas Lynch, Jr. (27) of South Carolina. The oldest delegate was Benjamin Franklin (70) of Pennsylvania. The lead author of The Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was 33.

A total of seven signers of the Declaration of Independence were graduates of Harvard University.

The only two signers of the Declaration of Independence who later served as President of the United States were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

The stars on the original American flag were in a circle so all the Colonies would appear equal.

The first Independence Day celebration took place in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776. This was also the day that the Declaration of Independence was first read in public after people were summoned by the ringing of the Liberty Bell. It is interesting to note that in many communities reading the Declaration of Independence is still part of the day’s celebration.

The White House held its first 4th July party in 1801.

President John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe all died on the Fourth. Adams and Jefferson (both signers of the Declaration) died on the same day within hours of each other in 1826.

Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national bird but was overruled by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who recommended the bald eagle.

In 1776, there were 2.5 million people living in the new nation. Today the population of the U.S.A. is over 327 million.

Fifty-nine places in the U.S. contain the word “liberty” in the name. Pennsylvania, with 11, has more of these places than any other state. Of the 59 places nationwide containing “liberty” in the name, four are counties: Liberty County, Ga. (65,471), Liberty County, Fla. (8,276), Liberty County, Mont. (2,392) and Liberty County, Texas (76,571).

The most common patriotic-sounding word used within place names is “union” with 136. Pennsylvania, with 33, has more of these places than any other state. Other words most commonly used in place names are Washington (127), Franklin (118), Jackson (96) and Lincoln (95).

Traditions place the origins of “Yankee Doodle” as a pre-Revolutionary War song originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War. It is believed that the tune comes from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket. One version of the Yankee Doodle lyrics is “generally attributed” to Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon. According to one story, Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, V, the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.

Every 4th of July the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped (not actually rung) thirteen times in honor of the original thirteen colonies.

This isn’t necessarily all that interesting; Thomas Jefferson wrote just what the Declaration of Independence means that every American should know – after all, he wrote it! He wrote, “The Declaration of Independence states that the authority to govern belongs to the people, rather than to kings, that all people are created equal and have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting closer.

That’s –30—for this week.