WootBot


quality posts: 14 Private Messages WootBot

Staff

July is the season of barbecues and coolers full of watermelon and supermarket-brand soda. In the United States, at least, it all happens in the service of the nation’s birthday. On the 4th day of this month, Americans celebrate 236 years of independence from their British oppressors, who wanted them to pay taxes on stamps or spell the word “color” with an extra ‘u’ or something. But, as leading political figures occasionally remind us, a lot of what we think we know about the nation’s Founding Fathers is actually a load of hooey. Let Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings give you liberty from all the misinformation before you run for office yourself and make one of these red-white-and-bloopers.

Independence Myth #1: The Declaration of Independence Was Signed on July 4, 1776.

In the mythical version of that sweltering Philadelphia summer of 1776, the delegates of the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 4 and then, in ceremonial fashion, took turns signing Thomas Jefferson’s eloquent declaration to that effect. Some of the delegates even got some good wisecracks in—congress president John Hancock said he signed so big that King George could read it “without his spectacles,” and Ben Franklin joked that the men must hang together, or else “most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

In fact, the oil-painting version of this event is wrong in almost every respect. The critical vote for independence actually took place on July 2, and John Adams wrote to his wife predicting that that date would “be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary festival.” A copy of the final document was sent to the printer on July 4, but that copy is lost, so we have no idea who signed it—possibly John Hancock, possibly others, possibly no one at all. Some of the 56 signatories of the document we have today weren’t even present in July, so most historians accept delegate Thomas McKean’s 1796 account of the signing: it didn’t begin until August 2, when a new handwritten copy, one that had been ordered back on July 19, was presented to Congress. Signatures trickled in for years afterward, and some men who had been instrumental in the declaration’s creation, like New York’s Robert Livingston, never got to sign. McKean himself didn’t add his name until sometimes between 1777 and 1781.

The Hancock and Franklin zingers weren’t added to the story until many decades later, so they’re clearly fanciful. Even worse—for high school stoners, anyway—the historical record reveals that all extant copies of the Declaration were printed on parchment (animal skin), not hemp, as supporters of drug legalization sometime claim. Maybe we need a new conspiracy theory here. Maybe there was a hemp copy too, which the Continental Congress passed around back on 4/20, but then everybody started eating johnnycakes and telling Prussian jokes and they forgot to sign.

Quick Quiz: Every year, the U.S. government prints over 60 million copies of John Trumbull’s painting of the Declaration’s signing. Why?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

icrf


quality posts: 1 Private Messages icrf

Well, that begs the question: why do we celebrate July 4th?

Stlheadake


quality posts: 1 Private Messages Stlheadake
icrf wrote:Well, that begs the question: why do we celebrate July 4th?



DUH! We needed something between memorial day and labor day! Life gets boring without a reason to drink beer and grill!

Zames


quality posts: 1 Private Messages Zames
icrf wrote:Well, that begs the question: why do we celebrate July 4th?



After the wording was approved on July 2nd, Jefferson then had to hand-write the final version with all the voted-on revision included. He wrote that on July 4th, putting that date in big letters on the top of the document.

Truth,
James

BJGumby


quality posts: 3 Private Messages BJGumby
icrf wrote:Well, that begs the question: why do we celebrate July 4th?



Even though the resolution was passed on July 2nd, the final document was not approved and publicly read until July 4th (the date on the DofI). So for two days, the country was basically on double-secret probation.

Zames


quality posts: 1 Private Messages Zames
BJGumby wrote:So for two days, the country was basically on double-secret probation.



um.. Would that be England on double-secret probation?

Truth,
James

Zames


quality posts: 1 Private Messages Zames

No "Quick Quiz" this week?

Truth,
James

jcolag


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag

I don't buy it.

Sorry, I buy that the painting shows a scene that couldn't have happened, and I buy that the Declaration was voted on the second.

However, the final version was "released" on the fourth, and couldn't have been considered legitimate without a signature.

Surely, Hancock signed it, "by Order and in Behalf of the Congress," on the fourth as the only signature that mattered as President of the Congress, and others added their names when the opportunity presented itself as a show of solidarity, more like signing someone's cast.

warpirate


quality posts: 1 Private Messages warpirate
icrf wrote:Well, that begs the question: why do we celebrate July 4th?



rayray099


quality posts: 6 Private Messages rayray099

I remember this from one of my art history classes. We were all like Walrus Toting Halibut, Fore Fathers?? Web of lies!
I still like the painting, though.

DaveInSoCal


quality posts: 17 Private Messages DaveInSoCal

I love reading The Debunker. Thanks Ken!


jhonr


quality posts: 0 Private Messages jhonr

I come from a "mac and cheese" vs. "pate de foie gras" school of thought on how to present HISTORY to the masses.

It would be impossible to simply (mac & cheese) represent the event which was so pivotal to our country the way it ACTUALLY occurred. The painting serves that purpose quite well.

Historians (professional and amateur) both have a more "sophisticated palate" for the full story. ALL history is nuanced -- and if we tried to convey quickly the completed concepts in ANY event, I believe we'd lose our past.

SESteve


quality posts: 15 Private Messages SESteve

By far the best retelling of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is from Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America volume 1. In it, Thomas Jefferson brings the document to Ben Franklin to convince him to sign it. Some of the best lines (to the limits of my recollection with a little help from the webs):

"Hancock, hmph! Pretty flamboyant signature for an insurance salesman."

"I notice Washington hasn't signed. Talks up a storm with those wooden teeth of his. But comes time to sign the parchment-o-roonie, try and find him."

Franklin (reading): "Life, Liberty, and the purfuit of happineff?" Jefferson: "that's pursuit of happiness." Franklin: all your s's look life f's." Jefferson: "it's in—very in."

whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 7 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

Hmm, for whatever reason, the end of this Debunker didn't get posted, which is why there's no "Quick Quiz" question this week. Here's the missing text:

The Hancock and Franklin zingers weren’t added to the story until many decades later, so they’re clearly fanciful. Even worse—for high school stoners, anyway—the historical record reveals that all extant copies of the Declaration were printed on parchment (animal skin), not hemp, as supporters of drug legalization sometime claim. Maybe we need a new conspiracy theory here. Maybe there was a hemp copy too, which the Continental Congress passed around back on 4/20, but then everybody started eating johnnycakes and telling Prussian jokes and they forgot to sign.

Quick Quiz: Every year, the U.S. government prints over 60 million copies of John Trumbull’s painting of the Declaration’s signing. Why?

EDIT: Fixed now! Thanks Woot.

tenore


quality posts: 0 Private Messages tenore

regarding the quiz, isnt trumbull's portrait printed on the reverse of the $2 bill?

pepperc


quality posts: 0 Private Messages pepperc

As art, the Trumbull conveys a truth about the signing of the Declaration of Independence: that a grateful nation holds the founders up as heroes and patriots.

People understand the concepts of legislative process, committees, debate, and votes. Americans see those ideas in action through contemporary legislatures.

This is art, not the news.

Timeline:
July 2 - A resolution for independence was voted on and approved
July 3-July 4 - The Declaration of Independence was written, debated, and tweaked
July 4 - The Declaration of Independence was voted on and adopted

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_history.html

jhonr wrote: It would be impossible to simply (mac & cheese) represent the event which was so pivotal to our country the way it ACTUALLY occurred. The painting serves that purpose quite well.


MuteDeCute


quality posts: 1 Private Messages MuteDeCute
tenore wrote:regarding the quiz, isnt trumbull's portrait printed on the reverse of the $2 bill?



According to wiki:

"Trumbull's painting is the source of the picture on the reverse of the two-dollar bill ... . The bill features 40 of the 47 figures from Trumbull's painting. Two other unknown figures are superimposed in the engraving ... bringing the total number of figures on the reverse of the two-dollar bill to 42."

I would say you're close enough to earn the full 2 points.



Momanon


quality posts: 0 Private Messages Momanon
icrf wrote:Well, that begs the question:



This doesn't mean what you think it means.

http://begthequestion.info/