The History of July 4th and the Weather
By Erica Campbell on July 1, 2012, 4:33pm
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July 4th is celebrated as our Nation’s birthday. It is a day of family, picnics and fireworks. There is also the history behind why we actually celebrate July 4th and of course, there is always weather involved. Some of the history is well known, some is not very well know and some of the story has been lost and/or changed over time. In fact, what you may know about the history of July 4th may not be true at all. Being a fifth grade teacher, this is one of the best parts of my job…teaching REAL American history.
In 1776, the American Revolution (also called the Revolutionary War) had only officially been fought for a little over a year. The country, for the most part, did NOT want to be free from England and King George III. The battle cries for freedom and independence were only truly ringing from the area now known as New England, especially Massachusetts. Patrick Henry’s rousing speech of “Give me Liberty or give me Death,” was only heard by a few hundred people. Eventually, this would all change and as the war raged on, the majority of the country would join the cause. But, there was more that would happen…
1776 was also the year that would cry out a need for an official document claiming independence from England. Enter, the “Committee.” It was decided that a committee was needed to write this document. The committee chosen were the following people: John Adams (from Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (from Connecticut), Ben Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert Livingston (New York) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). They met several times to discuss ideas. Finally, Thomas Jefferson created the first rough draft and the Declaration of Independence was born. Jefferson had rented an upstairs attic room, in a brick building on Market and Seventh Streets in Philadelphia, in which to work. When it would get too hot in the attic, he would put his feet in a bucket of ice to cool off!!
In June 1776, Jefferson gave his first draft to Congress. But, Congress refused to sign it unless Jefferson removed his words against slavery. All of the members of Congress, in 1776, were rich white men. They believed that all men were created equal, but they were very vague about whether they believed the same rights should apply to the poor, women, African Americans and Native Americans…a belief that would plague this country for hundreds of years. Consequently, the first United States Presidents, from George Washington and including Thomas Jefferson, until Abraham Lincoln (also known as the Great Emancipator), would own slaves.
Jefferson made further changes to the Declaration from July 2nd to July 4th 1776. Finally, on July 4th, delegates from twelve colonies voted to approve the Declaration of Independence. When John Hancock signed the Declaration on July 4th, it became law. John Hancock signed first because he was the President of Congress. He also signed the largest so King George III of England could see Hancock’s signature without his glasses. Subsequently, the King never read it. After becoming law, however, the people didn’t hear the Declaration until July 8th, when it was read out loud to a crowd in Philadelphia. It was not until August 2nd that the final draft, as we know it, was written and completed and at least September (or longer) until it was signed by all members of Congress. An original copy of the Declaration of Independence in held in the National Archives in Washington DC.
So where does the weather come into all of this? The popular theory is that in June-July 1776 Philadelphia was gripped by an oppressive heat wave. And indeed, many years before and after 1776 would see this happen…along with outbreaks of Malaria from the mosquitoes that lived in the surrounding waterways…but that is for another article. However, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, that theory can be proven as not true. Jefferson was a highly intelligent man, who loved to read and study. One of the topics he loved to study was the climate and weather. During his time in Philadelphia, Jefferson carried around a thermometer in his pocket and would record the temperature at regular intervals. Due to his journal keeping, we can now know that the temperatures between July 1st - July 4th 1776 were between 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 76 degrees Fahrenheit…a comfortable temperature range. His actual journal was called the “Weather Memorandum Book…July 1776, Philadelphia.” It can be seen as part of the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
We celebrate July 4th as the time of our Declaration of Independence from England and the birth of our Nation as we know it. However, as with so much of our history BEFORE the advent of photography, the media and the Internet, there is much that has been changed…our at the least…moved to fit popular belief. Dig in to history…there may be something you thought was true, when in reality, it may be closer to legend.
Happy July 4th Everyone!!
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