A Founding Father Missed It By That Much

07/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

John Adams was one of the stuffier characters of the Revolution, so it always tickles me that among his voluminous pronouncements and predictions, he got this big one -- the anniversary of the nation's independence -- wrong by 48 hours.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress declared American independence. So why are we celebrating the big day on the Fourth of July? That's the day the Declaration of Independence was revised, signed by the whole crowd, and then officially adopted.

Even so, it took several days more for the big news to reach the other colonies and get to General George Washington, and I've read that it wasn't until 1777 the formal anniversary was set -- as July 4.

Adams figured the date of declaring independence itself would be the big hullabaloo, not the final signing, and in a July 3 letter to his wife, Abigail, he wrote "The second day of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that this 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, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever."

I found this letter in Liberty and Union, an 1888 history book of mine. At least the editors didn't do what I gather some history texts did: they pulled a "1984" and "rectified," to use Orwell's word, the date in the Adams letter, changing it to July 4. Because it wouldn't do for a Founding Fathers to be anything but infallible.

I say we split the difference and start celebrating today. Let crotchety ol' John Adams have one -- for the books.