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Lock, Stock, and History

On this day in history, November 20th, 1776,

Founding Father Oliver Wolcott signs the Declaration of Independence.

Wait … What!?

If you look up the Signing of the Declaration of Independence in any history book you will probably see this picture painted John Trumbull in 1819.

File:Declaration independence.jpg

An excellent painting, it depicts our founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence on August 4th, 1776.  Wait a minute… did you say August 4th?

One of the greatest myths of American history was that the signing of the Declaration of Independence occured on July 4th, 1776.  After all, that is why we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th.  However, that is not entirely accurate.  On July 4th the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence (with the vote on adoption occurring on July 2nd).  Once approved the Declaration was not formally binding.  While Continental Congress represented the colonies as a whole, political power was held with the colonial legislatures.  For the Declaration to be official the legislatures of each colony had to approve of the Declaration.  After July 4th, 200 copies of the Declaration were printed by John Dunlap and distributed throughout the colonies, with the signatures of only John Hancock (president), and Charles Thomson (secretary).  

By July 19th the Continental Congress had all of their ducks in a row and ordered the Declaration be engrossed.  On August 4th the delegates of congress reconvened and signed the Declaration.  John Hancock made his signature the largest at the center because he was president, and that was what committee heads did back in the 18th century.  It was not so that “King George would see his signature first”.  

While the Declaration of Independence was signed on August 4th, it still was not complete as there was some stragglers who could not attend the signing convention.  Late signers were Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, and Matthew Thornton. Oliver Wolcott, for example, was deathly ill and could not sign until November.  Others were too busy managing a wartime government or occupied with military service.  Thomas McKean was the last, signing it in 1781.

In addition two delegates did not sign the Declaration of Independence at all.

  • Robert Livingston voted on adoption on July 2nd, but was recalled by New York before signing on August 4th.
  • John Dickinson refused to sign, objecting to the wording of the Declaration.

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    On this day in history, November 20th, 1776, Founding Father Oliver Wolcott signs the Declaration of Independence. Wait...
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