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July 4, 2022

Independence Day

On July 4, Americans will eat 150 million hot dogs, spend $1 billion on beer, and watch 16,000 fireworks displays (and those are just the official ones). But why do we celebrate on July 4, when did it become a national holiday, and did John Adams eat hot dogs?

Joining me for the story of the Declaration of Independence, why July 4th might not be the right date to be celebrating, and who the signers actually were, is historian, podcaster, and DC tour guide, Rebecca Fachner.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The musical interlude is “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” written by John Philip Sousa and performed by the United States Navy Band in 1929. The recording is in the public domain and is housed in the Internet Archive.

The image is a photograph of “The Declaration of Independence: One of two ‘exact’ facsimiles given to James Madison on June 30, 1824, sent by John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State, according to Congressional Resolution. Copperplate engraving printed on vellum, William J. Stone, 1823.” Declaration is in the collection of David M. Rubenstein and is displayed in Chicago, Illinois. The photograph of the Declaration was taken by Kelly Therese Pollock on July 1, 2022. 





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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. Today's episode will be a little bit different than normal. July 4 is my birthday and I have had a long fascination with and complicated emotional relationship with the holiday. On today's episode, we're going to discuss the Declaration of Independence; but along the way, we'll also talk about some fun facts and odd histories about July 4 itself. In the United States, July 4 is a federal holiday called Independence Day, to commemorate the Declaration of Independence, the document in which delegates to the Second Continental Congress declared that the colonies were free independent states and no longer subject to Britain. I'll read a little bit of it here for you. "The Unanimous Declaration of the 13 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 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 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 affect 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 have 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 a government and provide new guards for their future security." I take issue with the sexist language. But I think it's a good declaration. It goes on from there to talk about all of the things that King George did wrong. I'm not going to read that out to you. We'll return to the declaration in a little bit. But first, a little more about Independence Day. Independence Day wasn't always a federal holiday. But the annual celebrations of it started even before the Revolutionary War ended. In 1777, there were reports of anniversary observances in Bristol, Rhode Island, where gunshots were fired in salute, and in Philadelphia, where the party looked very much like today, with dinner and music, parades and fireworks. General Washington got into the spirit in 1778, marking July 4 with a double ration of rum for the soldiers who were still fighting to ensure that the independence would be achieved.

The first formal governmental recognition of the holiday was in 1781, when the state legislature in Massachusetts declared it a state holiday. In 1801, Independence Day was first celebrated at the White House, which had opened the previous November. After the War of 1812, the celebrations of Independence Day became more common. But it wasn't until 1870 that the US Congress named Independence Day, a federal holiday as part of an act, establishing the first four federal holidays, which also included New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Finally, in 1938, Congress passed a law that paid the time off for federal holidays at the same rate as regular workdays, at least for federal employees. Today, Independence Day is a major summer holiday, and a pretty expensive one. The 16,000 some official fireworks displays around the country are not cheap. Small towns may pay between $8000 and $15,000 for theirs, with a city like Boston paying more than $2 million for its Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. The Macy's fireworks show in New York City reportedly costs about $6 million. The other thing Americans spend a lot of money on for Independence Day is food and alcohol. Hotdogs may be a cheap food, but the 150 million of them that Americans eat on the fourth adds up. The projection for 2022 is that Americans will spend over seven and a half billion dollars on food, $1 billion on beer, and another half a billion on wine. It may be even more expensive if everyone ate the salmon with peas and turtle soup meal that John and Abigail Adams supposedly ate for the holiday. But why do we celebrate on July 4? If you just answered, "because that's when the Declaration of Independence was signed," well, you need to listen to the rest of the episode. Joining me now for the story of the Declaration of Independence, why July 4 is maybe not the right day to be celebrating, and who the signers actually were is historian, podcaster, and DC tour guide, Rebecca Fachner.

Hello, Rebecca, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me.

Rebecca Fachner  8:22  
Hi, I'm so excited to be here. This is so fun.

Kelly Therese Pollock  8:25  
Yes, I am thrilled to be talking about the most important day of all days in the calendar, which is July 4. I think you're about to tell me why it's not the most important day of all days in the calendar. But nonetheless, I will maintain that July 4 is the most important day.

Rebecca Fachner  8:41  
Fair enough. Fair enough. Yeah. If you're under the impression that something really important historically happened on July 4, vis-a-vis like the American independence, if you want to continue to maintain that belief, probably this might not be the pod for you. It is it's not actually as significant a day. The event is, what happened is significant, but it just did not actually happen really on July 4.

Kelly Therese Pollock  9:07  
I mean, it's still a significant day in history, because I was born on July 4. So you know, if you'd like to just celebrate it as my birthday, you can all continue to do that. That would be...

Rebecca Fachner  9:16  
Obviously that's the real importance here. And the declaration what?

Kelly Therese Pollock  9:24  
So let's talk about the days that are actually a little bit more important than July 4.

Rebecca Fachner  9:29  
Okay, so first to backup, it's, I mean, obviously what is important is what they were doing not like exactly when they did it. And one of the things that I like to make clear is that this isn't something that just happens all at once like we have this because we're taught this in history class. You know, if you're lucky, you get a week of like American Revolution and the ramp up and all the Constitution stuff. It did not happen in a week. This is years of prep, and the founders are going back and forth and there was no point at which all of the signers are all 100% on on board. They're all a little nervous, and they're scared and they're not like this could end very badly for them and they know it. So there's not this isn't like lockstep towards independence. And so they are all meeting in Philadelphia in the spring. And as you move into the summer, it becomes more and more obvious that there's going to be some kind of declaration. And in early June, the what's called the Committee of Five, June 11, is when the Committee of Five forms, which is John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. And they don't take notes about what they're doing. They're tasked with drafting a declaration, and they take no notes. So it's kind of clear that they're like, "Oh, homework, great, who wants to do homework?" And everyone thinks John Adams should actually be the person to draft the Declaration. And John Adams is like, no, Massachusetts is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Like we need buy in from somebody else. And Virginia is the most populated state. And so that's kind of how Jefferson becomes the primary author of the Declaration, which takes place over weeks. Like it's not like it was just handed down from like, on to his quill, you know, all at once. Like there's significant parts that are cut out of the Declaration of Indepenance. July 2, is really the day. I'm sorry. I know. It's sad.

Kelly Therese Pollock  11:22  
I mean, all the people who insist on setting up fireworks for weeks at a time will be happy to know they've got a reason on July 2, to be setting up fireworks,

Rebecca Fachner  11:31  
You get it right, if you just go kind of around July 4, like any of those, yeah, so they're, they're trying to get it alright. July 2 is the day that something called the Lee Resolution passes, which is the colonies, all 13 of them vote with one voice to say that they want to be independent. And so that's the big moment. And in fact, John Adams is going to write in a letter that he thinks July 2 is the day that we're gonna celebrate, and have bonfires and celebrations and music and all that, not the first or the last thing John Adams was wrong about. July 4, is the day that they actually approved Jefferson's language. So like the language of the declaration, they had made some significant edits, there's a whole paragraph that they strike out. Jefferson writes all about slavery and about how basically American slavery is the fault of the king, which, I don't even...

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:23  
 Says the enslaver himself.

Rebecca Fachner  12:25  
 Yeah, Jefferson. But July 4, is the day that they finally decide, okay, we've got what we want. There's 27 clauses, and essentially, what the Declaration of Independence is, when you kind of boil it to its most essential parts is it's essentially a breakup note. You know, like the colonists are breaking up with the king. And because they're all lawyers, or at least most of them are, that's how they think in legal terms. And so they want to justify why it is they're doing what they're doing. Like, the king doesn't call and he sticks them with the bill. And he's not very nice. And all that that's literally like, it goes point by point 27 points of like, you stink, and we're going to break up now. It's not us, it's you. That's about basically what it says.

Kelly Therese Pollock  13:12  
But in the days before text messages, or emails, or even faxes or phone calls, presumably the king doesn't know right away that they've said this,

Rebecca Fachner  13:22  
Right. It that takes a little while. And so immediately after they're going to vote for this, they approve the language on July 4, they've got to do two things. They have to distribute it. And then they have to what's called "engross the document." Engrossing is actually still something that takes place in like Congress today. It looks different, because we have different technology now, but essentially has to be written out. And so they're going to send it to a scribe named Timothy Matlack, who's going to take about a month to literally write the Declaration out and he's got nice handwriting and looks all very official, but because they approved the language on July 4, that's why it's dated July 4.  They're also going to send it to a printer, because this needs to get distributed like yesterday. Like we need to know, they need to distribute this from, you know, New Hampshire to Georgia and let people know what the government is doing. And so they're going to print out 300 what are called "Dunlap Broadsides," and they are distributed in town squares and things. It is going to be read out for the first time on July 8, in Philadelphia, right around what's now Independence Hall by a guy named John Nixon, who was, believe it or not an ancestor of President Richard Nixon. I know. It just never ends. No one actually signs anything because there's nothing to sign until the beginning of August. And even then, they don't have DocuSign and email attachments in the 1770s. Like you can't just like email it over to the next guy. You know, they have to be in Philadelphia to sign it. That takes a while. A bunch of them sign, about 30 of them sign pretty quickly, the rest of them come in dribs and drabs. And by a year later, 55 of the 56 signatures are on the document. One guy, Thomas McKean, is going to hold out for a few years. Because people always look at me strangely when I mentioned this, like, why would he have held out? Well, we know how the war turns out, being in the present, he did not. He wasn't sure he wanted to be on the losing side. So he's not going to put his name to something that might end up getting him hanged, or worse, perhaps. And so he's going to wait and basically hedge his bets until it's pretty clear that the Americans are going to win, the colonists are going to win the American Revolution, and then he signs. So we've got real profiles and courage.

Kelly Therese Pollock  15:55  
Indeed, so there are you said, 56, then in the end, who who sign it?

Rebecca Fachner  15:59  
Yes, 56 men, all white, all, as far as we know, cisgender all property owning, all relatively wealthy. So this is not like a diverse group of worthies. These are the governing class. There is one out of 56, one Catholic signer. That is literally what passes for diversity amongst the Declaration of Independence. That's it, one Catholic signer. His name is Charles Carroll of Carrollton. And he will be actually the longest lived of the signers of the Declaration of Independance. He dies in 1832, in his 90s, which is insane. Yeah, I know, particularly for about 95. Like, I think he's 94, 95, yeah he dies. Yeah, it's amazing to me. And so this is these are all men, these are all property owning men. And they are concerned a lot of what the things that they're going to accuse the king of doing is stealing their property and quartering private soldiers in their private home and things like that. They are a bunch, of so many of them are connected by either blood ties or marriage, like the Virginia signers, almost all of them are related in some way. Almost all of them. For example, Thomas Jefferson is one of the younger signers he's only actually 33 years old when he signs the Declaration of Independence. And His Law Professor, George Wythe is another signer. He's got cousins that sign. The Lee family, two of the, if you're familiar with the name, Robert E. Lee, two of his great uncles signed the Declaration of Independence. Future president William Henry Harrison's father Benjamin signs the Declaration of Independence. So there's not, it this is like a legacy of people. There's a bunch of people who are in the same class, they kind of know each other. That's less true in sort of other places. But for example, John Adams and Samuel Adams, who did, by the way, brew beer, thumbs up. They're second cousins, and so they're from both from Massachusetts. So there is these are people who travel in the same circles. One of my favorite signers is a guy from Delaware named Caesar Rodney. Caesar Rodney was ill. He had been, he actually had several different over his lifetime forms of cancer. At this point, he was fairly ill, he is at home because again, he's got cancer. And he receives a note that the Delaware delegation might not vote for independence. And so that would mean that it would be 12 to one rather than 13 to nothing in favor of independence. And he's so committed, Caesar Rodney, that he is he wants this to be unanimous. He wants the colonists to say with one voice that we are going to be independent, and that we should be and so he's going to get on his horse and ride all night, from Delaware to Philadelphia with cancer in a like a thunderstorm because, of course, this is real, and he arrives like mud splattered and exhausted like moments before they're supposed to take the vote. Now in the way that he tells it, he arrives right on the heels of the vote, like three minutes, it was probably a couple of  couple hours early. But for dramatic sake, you know, he arrives right as they're about to take the vote, and he's gonna push Delaware over the top to vote for independence. And so it becomes thirteen to nothing. So Caesar Rodney is kind of a little bit of a hero, I would say. But another of the founders, one of, John Hancock is the one that everyone has talked about. He's got the big signature on the top. And this is another myth to dispel here is that John Hancock will tell everyone for the rest of his life that he signed big, because he wanted the king to read his signature without his king's glasses. As it happened, King did have pretty poor eyesight and he did wear glasses, but that's not the reason John Hancock signed big. John Hancock was made the president of the Continental Congress and so he is actually the first guy to sign and so when he gets the document, there's all that blank space. Wow, he just kind of goes to town. He also John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men like he was like the Jeff Bezos of his day. Except presumably, he treated his workers a little better. I don't know. But he maybe, maybe not. He owed a lot of shipping interests and things. And his support of independence is going to be really important, because he's got so much to lose, you know, the British cabal could take his shipping interests and seize his assets. And then where would he be? And so for him to be very public about his support for independence is a really big feather in the cap of the colonists. This, you know, this important guy is with us. And so he's made president kind of of Congress for that reason. And so that's why he's the first guy to sign, John Hancock, plus that signatures just, it's just so it's really beautiful.

Kelly Therese Pollock  20:46  
He wanted us all to remember it. And it worked.

Rebecca Fachner  20:51  
And then he started an insurance agency. No, just kidding, kids. He didn't. That's a lie.

Kelly Therese Pollock  20:58  
And so there were signers from all 13 colonies, right?  But not equal numbers, I assume.

Rebecca Fachner  21:05  
No,not equal numbers. And in fact, not everybody who debated the Declaration of Independence ended up signing it. Some of them don't, and for various number of reasons they couldn't get to Philadelphia. Again, they didn't have Docusign. Some of them just don't want to for the similar reasons that Thomas McKean didn't want to. And some of them sort of lose either interest. Some of them die at some point like this is you know, we're fighting a war, there's a bunch of things going on. George Washington does not sign the Declaration of Independence. This is also important to note, he signs the Constitution, but not the declaration. He was off fighting a war, he was in New York being awesome at being George Washington. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams do,but they do not sign the constitution. So they leave to go to Europe to do European things, basically, ambassador things. So they don't sign the constitution. But they are the Jefferson and Adams are going to debate and a lot of what we know about the Committee of Five and the writing process comes from them, but it's their like later recollections. So after they're already famous, after they're already important, after they, in some cases, like after they've been president, like a lot of this stuff is like, very kind of unreliable. And you know, your memory gets a little faded after a few years, and you want to think you're more important than maybe you know, whatever and put yourself in a starring role and Jefferson and Adams have a famously like, back and forth kind of a friendship. So at various points, they want to glorify the other one and at various points they want to not. And so it just kind of sifting through a lot of their writings about this is also kind of interesting too.

Kelly Therese Pollock  22:41  
 And then perhaps we can jump ahead in time since we're talking about Adams and Jefferson and talk about the strangest thing about all of this: what happens 50 years later?

Rebecca Fachner  22:51  
This just blows my mind. This is how you know that really, truth is stranger than fiction right here. Because the story that I'm about to tell you, if I made it up, you wouldn't believe me, because it's just too many coincidences for real life, but it is real. So as the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which would be 1826, 50 years, approaches, by this time, Jefferson and Adams are both elderly, they are still alive. But Jefferson is in his 80s. John Adams is 90. And they're at home in their Jefferson's in southwest Virginia. Adams is outside of Boston. And they Jefferson and Adams are friends. And then they're enemies. And then they reconcile in retirement. And so they have written letters back and forth. And by this time, they have this sort of, like, relationship of like, "Oh, remember when we like charged up the hill, so many years ago, we've just been through so much." And so they send these really lovely letters back and forth to each other for decades. And they're both still alive as the country is getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary, but they're also both elderly and not in the best health. And so they want to make it to July 4, so that they can make it to this 50th anniversary. But again, time is not on their side. It becomes clear as June sort of spreads into July,1826, Jefferson is not going to last much longer. And John Adams isn't either. And because they don't have like Twitters and tiktoks and 24 hour cable news back then, they don't know that this is going on with the other guy. And as July 4, like the third turns into the fourth, Jefferson is going to come in and out of consciousness. It's very clear that this is the end, but he wants so badly to make it to the fourth and keeps asking the you know, his kids and his grandkids is it the fourth yet and they say no, it's not. And in Boston or outside of Boston, John Adams is doing the same thing. John Adams dies on the morning of July 4, 1826, and his last words are "Jefferson lives." What he means by that, they think, is that "It's okay that I'm dying because you still have Jefferson." What you don't know, because again, no Twitter is that Jefferson had just died in Virginia. So on the same day, so the second and third president United States, both of whom wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, both die not only on the same day, but the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is you cannot make this up. It's actually 100% real. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  25:28  
So wild. And then five years later, Monroe was like, "I meant to get in on that."

Rebecca Fachner  25:37  
Right. And then, like, what they really should have been saying is," Charles Carroll still lives," because Charles Carroll was still alive in his 90s. Like, seriously 1830s, yo, it's amazing. Yeah. One of my favorite signers is a guy who died who no one's ever heard of. He dies less than a year after signing the Declaration of Independence. His name is Button Gwinnett. He's the if you look at the document, he's top left. He is from Georgia. If you're familiar with Atlanta, Gwinnett County is named after him. But because he's relatively young, he's only about 40, and he had been pretty obscure before this. And then he dies in a duel, which is kind of legit, less than a year later. So there's not a lot of there's not a lot of writings of his and his signature, because it's so rare and people collect stuff like this, his signature will sell for over half a million dollars. So he's the half million dollar man. And in fact, because of this, he is, to my knowledge, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence, who has a science fiction short story written about him. Isaac Asimov writes a short story about going back in time and giving him like documents to sign and then like bringing them to the modern day and stuff like, because they're worth so much money. It's really a good idea. I know. Right?

Kelly Therese Pollock  27:00  
All right. If I ever get a time machine, things you could do with it.

Rebecca Fachner  27:04  
Right, go back in time to make money.

Kelly Therese Pollock  27:08  
So the oldest signer, of course is Benjamin Franklin. 

Rebecca Fachner  27:13  
Yes, good old Ben Franklin. So great. The oldest signer is Ben Franklin, and he's also the only really famous signer. So that's important too, like world famous. I don't mean just in the United States, like some of these guys were famous in their state, and some of them, or colony rather. And some of them were more obscure, like South Carolina doesn't think that this whole convention is going to be particularly important. And so they send four relatively junior guys, the oldest of which is 35, the youngest of which is in fact, the youngest signer, Edward Rutledge, who's 26 years old, becomes the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. But Ben Franklin is the oldest. And he's the only one with like, a lot of international clout because he's famous for his scientific discoveries, but he's about 70 years old. And immediately after this, they're going to ask him to go to France and have the king give us a lot of money. So that's Ben Franklin's next big job. So he's the he's the oldest and he also signed the Constitution in his 80s. Just good times. Good times for Ben.

Kelly Therese Pollock  28:10  
Yeah, I think my favorite signer is Elbridge Gerry. So Elbridge Gerry, of course, was briefly vice president before he died in office, and is the only, I believe the only signer buried in DC because he died as vice president. He was living in DC. The reason I love Elbridge Gerry is because it is for Elbridge Gerry that gerrymandering is named. He was the governor of Massachusetts. And they were drawing crazy lines. There was a political cartoon where the district that was drawn looked like a salamander. So they named it a gerrymander after Elbridge Gerry, and so he has come down to us in history, as I'm sure he wasn't the first person to draw terrible lines, but the namesake of the terrible keeping your political party in power by drawing lines for the voters that you want.

Rebecca Fachner  29:06  
He also like they mispronounce his name too. Like he pronounced it Elbridge, Elbridge "Gary" and we say "gerrymandering," so it just they don't even get his name, right, which just makes me a little sad for him. I feel like he gets a little more blame for gerrymandering, than perhaps he ought though not entirely.

Kelly Therese Pollock  29:24  
I don't think he was even the one to draw the lines, but you know, whatever. 

Rebecca Fachner  29:31  
And then there's also like, if you're a fan of the West Wing, like the the President in the West Wing, his name is Josiah Bartlett and the conceit of the show is that he's supposed to be from New Hampshire and from a family that basically founded the state, and there actually is a signer named Josiah Bartlett. Now we don't know what he looked like particularly there's one like woodcut we have of the actual person. So we don't there's no like likeness and so they just can't do better than Martin Sheen. Obviously, he's the man. We know there's a bunch of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, we actually don't have because they're so obscure. We don't have like a reliable image of what they looked like. Not true for Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, we know what they looked like. But some of the more obscure ones are very obscure.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:13  
Interesting. So I believe that there is one president in history who was born on July 4.

Rebecca Fachner  30:21  
Yes, there's one president that is born on July 4, and three that have died on July 4. We already covered two of them. James Monroe also is going to die on July 4, not the same July 4. Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:36  
Yes. So when I am elected president, I will be the second president to be born on July 4.

Rebecca Fachner  30:42  
I love it. I love it so much. My birthday is right before July 4. So I'm at the end of June. So I've get I'm ramping up to it. But and I believe George W. Bush is either the third or the fifth. He's right, like either the day before or after, I can't remember which.

Kelly Therese Pollock  30:57  
Well, and of course, Malia Obama was born on July 4. It's probably slightly more likely that she'd become president than I would but nonetheless. And my favorite July 4 related death, which sounds terrible to say, is Zachary Taylor, who did not die on July 4, but he died because of July 4. He was president, Zachary Taylor, going around to some July 4 parties, and of course not good refrigeration and stuff and he eats some tainted fruit and/or drinks some tainted milk. Who knows little of both. And then he dies because of his partying.

Rebecca Fachner  31:12  
Zachary Taylor, old rough and ready. He was, yeah, a little bit of a drunk, that one.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:42  
Yeah. So be careful about what you consume on July 4.

Rebecca Fachner  31:47  
Make sure your cherries are ripe.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:49  
 Yes, especially if it is summer and you're in Washington, DC and there's not good refrigeration. 

Rebecca Fachner  31:55  
A lot of early presidents had like gastrointestinal issues, and they think it's partly because of the water. Like wherever their water supply was for the White House like wasn't good and full of bacteria. But yes, the Declaration of Independence, my last, although less fun fact is it's fading. The original Declaration Independence is very faded. It was written with lead-based ink. They also didn't understand things like protecting it from humidity and things like that. And so it looks well loved. It's kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit of founding documents. They estimate the that in another 150 to 200 years, it will be so faded, it will be unreadable, which is a little bit of a bummer.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:38  
I mean, we may or may not be a country at that point.

Rebecca Fachner  32:43  
200 years is a log way away.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:46  
Where is it currently housed?

Rebecca Fachner  32:47  
It's in the National Archives, so, which is right downtown, Washington, DC. It is next to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They're all in the same rotunda of the National Archives.

Kelly Therese Pollock  32:47  
Are those doing any better?

Rebecca Fachner  32:51  
Yes. The Constitution actually is in great shape, for its age and all that it has been remarkably well preserved. The Constitution, the difference partly is a couple of chemical things that they didn't know about at the time. But the real big difference is, we've known from the beginning that the Constitution was important. Like it's the roadmap, it's the founding document, it's how we rule ourselves. The Declaration of Independence originally was kind of like a hot potato, If you got caught with it by the wrong people that might not end too great for you. And so it was basically like passed around to people, for a while. It was rolled up in some guy's like backpack for a while. And so it has not been you know, exposed to humidity and environmental damage and things like that. And it's made both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are written on animal skin, which is actually a fairly durable medium, but you have to treat it with care or else it fades, which is what is happening.

Kelly Therese Pollock  33:50  
Well, I hope people have learned some about why July 4 is the most important day. 

Rebecca Fachner  33:53  
Because it's Kelly's birthday, obviously.

Kelly Therese Pollock  33:55  
 Because it's my birthday. Poor poor John Adams. I kind of feel like maybe they started celebrating the fourth instead of the second just to spite John Adams.

Rebecca Fachner  34:04  
I would imagine he did too. That seems like the kind of thing he would take personally. John Adams is the the Rodney Dangerfield of the founders. He doesn't get enough respect.

Kelly Therese Pollock  34:17  
I'm gonna read this this quote from his letter to I believe to Abigail, yes, on July 3, which you mentioned earlier, he said that July 2 was going to be celebrated. He said, "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 shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore." So he got it all right, except the date.

Rebecca Fachner  34:53  
Yeah, he did. What are you gonna do? That's John Adams.

Kelly Therese Pollock  34:58  
All right, well, Rebecca, this was super fun, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday.

Rebecca Fachner  35:05  
Yeah, I honestly can't either. I bet fireworks are all for you.

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:10  
I hate fireworks. Yes, this was super fun. So thank you and where can people check out your other work?

Rebecca Fachner  35:19  
My other work, I'm a tour guide in Washington. So you can check out my work. I give tours all over the city. I'm on Twitter @Rebecca_Fachner. My own podcast is called "Tour Guide Tell All." We do all kinds of fun and interesting, mostly scandalous history bits. But those are the main ways you can find me.

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:38  
Excellent. I will put some links up to those in the show notes and a link to the John Adams letter so you can read it yourself and laugh at how John Adams didn't get his way. All right. Thank you, Rebecca. 

Rebecca Fachner  35:51  
Thank you very much.

Teddy  35:54  
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter, or Instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook @UnsungHistorypodcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.


Rebecca FachnerProfile Photo

Rebecca Fachner

Historian, Co-Host of the Tour Guide Tell All Podcast, and DC Tour Guide