There’s a lot we know about our history on the Fourth of July, or think we know. This column evaluates five myths about July 4 to see which ones are on track, and which ones are busted.
1) Several signatories to the Declaration of Independence were killed by the British.
False: There’s a political message that goes out on the Internet once a year, which tells us how five Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence were hung for treason. But that’s not supported by the evidence. Several were captured by the British, but these typically occurred as part of battles, like the sieges of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. None were executed, and all were either exchanged as part of prisoner swaps or eventually released.
2) George Washington signed the Declaration of Independence.
False: A popular tie shows George Washington at a key meeting of the Founding Fathers and is labeled “the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Actually, Washington was not at the Second Continental Congress where the Declaration of Independence was crafted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was preparing to defend New York City. He was informed of the event five days later. The painting in question was for the U.S. Constitutional Convention. Here is the painting the tie should have used, featuring Thomas Jefferson.
3) Thomas Jefferson originally wrote “subjects” instead of “citizens” in the Declaration of Independence.
True: When you’ve been part of a colony of a monarchy for your whole life, old habits die hard. The Library of Congress researchers have revealed that Jefferson’s original copy contained the word “subjects” that was replaced with the word “citizens” to reflect a new relationship between government and the governed.
4) Thomas Jefferson passed away on a July 4th date.
True: As improbable as it sounds, our third president passed away on July 4, 1826. On the same date, our second president John Adams also perished on that same date, just a short time later. Originally both Founding Fathers were allies, but became bitter political party rivals in the early elections of the United States of America.
5) The Turning Point of the Civil War happened on July 4, 1863.
Sort of: July of 1863 was a good month for the North. Union forces led by General George Meade defeated Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, but Pickett’s Charge was broken on the previous day (July 3). Lee’s forces spent the day continuing their retreat.
Northern Gen. Ulysses S. Grant did capture Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, but the Mississippi River was still not completely in Northern hands. A week later, however, the Southern city of Port Hudson, Louisiana fell, putting the strategic waterway solely in Union hands.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, GA