Why the fourth?From the National Archives transcription of the original document:
Though the Fourth of July is iconic to Americans, some claim the date itself is somewhat arbitrary. New Englanders had been fighting Britain since April 1775. The first motion in the Continental Congress for independence was made on June 4, 1776. After hard debate, the Congress voted unanimously, but secretly, for independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain on July 2 (see Lee Resolution). The Congress reworked the text of the Declaration until a little after eleven o'clock, July 4, when the twelve colonies voted for adoption and released a copy signed only by John Hancock, President of the Congress, to the printers. (The New York delegation abstained from both votes.) Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration with public readings and bonfires on July 8. Not until August 2 would a fair printing be signed by the members of the Congress, but even that was kept secret to protect the members from British reprisals.
John Adams, credited by Thomas Jefferson as the unofficial, tireless whip of the independence-minded, wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776:
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. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Adams was off by two days, however. Certainly, the vote on July 2 was the decisive act. But July 4, 1776 is the date on the Declaration itself. Jefferson's stirring prose, as edited by the Congress, was first adopted by the July 4th vote. It was also the first day Philadelphians heard the official news of independence from the Continental Congress, as opposed to rumors in the street about secret votes.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.You can read the whole thing at the Declaration of Independence website of the National Archives.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.