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BY: ALEX ASHLOCK
OK, so I’m a history nerd. I spent Saturday morning deep in the temperature and humidity-controlled archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Librarian Peter Drummey was kind enough to show me the treasures that are part of the society’s new exhibit, “July 2, 1776.”
Drawing from the society’s extensive collection of letters written by John and Abigail Adams, the exhibit offers a new look at the birth of a nation. John Adams believed July 2, 1776 would be the day celebrated as the birthday of America, because that was the day the Continental Congress resolved “that these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States.” Turned out he was off by two days because the country will celebrate independence on Wednesday. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress adopted text of the Declaration of Independence and had it printed for the first time.
“Adams thought it’s independence itself, not the declaration of it, that should be celebrated, and that the holiday should be celebrated a couple of days before on July 2,” Drummey told me. In a letter he wrote to Abigail, John Adams called July 2, 1776 “the most memorable in the history of America.” Here Drummey reads more from that letter and reflects on its importance:
In addition to letters like this the new exhibit includes a John Adams’ handwritten copy of one of Thomas Jefferson’s early drafts of the Declaration of Independence. Adams’ copy includes a remarkable criticism of the slave trade, an accusation that the King of England, George III, was responsible for the slave trade. Perhaps that hit a little to close to home for the Continental Congress because owning slaves was so common among its members. They excised it from the text they adopted on July 4, 1776.
The coolest thing I saw on Saturday was one of the few copies of what is called the first Dunlap printings of the Declaration on Independence. It’s a beautiful document. And it was printed in the shop of a Philadelphia newspaper printer named John Dunlap soon after the text was adopted. Copies were delivered to the Army, as well as to the cities and towns of the newly declared United States.
Independence was publicly proclaimed in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776 and in New York the following day. The Declaration was read here in Boston from the balcony of the Old Statehouse on July 18, 1776. Of that moment, Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to John: “The Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeared joyful.”