What Actually Happened on July 4th, 1776
Some Americans probably assume that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the 4th of July. One or two may even believe that on the 4th America's founders spontaneously wrote, agreed upon, and signed the document, thus cementing the days' place in history. The rest are too busy watching
The truth, however, is that the writing, editing, signing, and then presenting of the Declaration of Independence was a months-long project. The Second Continental Congress, which was responsible for producing and signing the document, began meeting in May, 1775, with no intention of declaring independence. It was not until June 11, 1776 that Thomas Jefferson began his work as the primary author of the document that would be used to declare independence. Jefferson's work was finished on June 28th, 1776. On July 2nd, Congress formally voted to declare independence, but did not yet adopt Jefferson's Declaration. Instead, they edited and debated Jefferson's draft, removing some parts, including one section in which Jefferson blamed King George for forcing the institution of slavery on the Americans (an especially rich claim for a man like Jefferson to make).
July 4th then became the day that twelve of the thirteen colonies (or at least representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies) voted to approve Jefferson's edited Declaration of Independence. The document was not actually presented to the public until July 8th (in Philadelphia) and July 9th (when it was read to George Washington's Continental troops).
By July 15th, New York became the last colony to approve the Declaration of Independence, and then, on July 19th, Congress ordered the Declaration of Independence to be engrossed on parchment. Finally, on August 2nd, the members of the Continental Congress began the process of signing the Declaration of Independence, completing the work that had begun months earlier.
The First Foreign Country to Recognize U.S.A. Independence
In 1778 the North African kingdom of Morocco, led by Emperor Mawlay Muhammad, became the first country to recognize American independence. Morocco was one of the so-called "Barbary States" of North Africa that profited from European interest in Mediterranean trade. They received tribute from European powers in exchange for "protection" from pirates who patrolled Mediterranean waters. Since those pirates were sanctioned by the Barbary states to capture foreign ships, the Barbary states basically operated a Mob-style protection system.
After Morocco captured a fishing vessel named the Betsy in 1778, they discovered papers on board indicating that it was an American ship. The Emperor added "America" to the list of countries protected by piracy, and sought to gain a diplomatic meeting with the new country. Such a meeting did not occur until 1785, when Morocco became the second country to sign a peace treaty with the United States.
Morocco has one other unique American first: The longest continually-held U.S. governmental property (outside of the U.S.) is located in Tangier, Morocco, and the building is now a museum. Considering the state of U.S. relations with the Islamic world today, it is ironic that a predominantly Muslim country was the first to recognize the newly independent U.S., and also among the first on which the U.S. government established an outpost.
A Day Meant for Twitter
On July 4th, 1826, on the fifty-year celebration of America's Declaration of Independence, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. Only one signer of the Declaration lived longer (Charles Carroll, who was also the only Catholic to sign the Declaration).
Adams and Jefferson represented competing visions for America's future. They were leaders of the regional competition between north (Adams/Massachusetts) and south (Jefferson/Virginia) for authority in the new nation. They also came to command the first political parties in American history, with Adams (and Alexander Hamilton) leading the Federalist Party, and Jefferson leading the Republican Party (not to be confused with today's Republican Party). The Federalist Party advocated for a more centralized federal government and less cooperation with revolutionary France, while Jefferson's Republican Party naturally took opposite positions in regards to the questions of centralization and revolutionary France.
The election of 1800 pitted Jefferson against the incumbent Adams, and it was one of the most combative elections in history. In fact, Jefferson's assumption to power is called the "Revolution of 1800" because the shift in policies between Jefferson's regime and Adams' was so profound.
Despite their ideological differences Adams and Jefferson overcome their rivalry in the latter years of their life, rekindling their friendship in remembrance of the common cause that brought them together to Philadelphia in 1776 in the first place. On his deathbed, Adams' last words were reported to have been "Thomas Jefferson survives." Jefferson, however, had died a few hours earlier. For most Americans in 1826, news of the two founding fathers' death reached them days and/or weeks after the event. One can only imagine the explosion of twitter tributes that would have erupted if such an event had happened in the age of instant information.
America's First National Anthem
On Independence Day in 1831 in Boston, a new national hymn was sung, set to the tune of "God Save the King." The tune may have been borrowed from Britain, but the words were distinctly American: "My country tis of thee/Sweet land of liberty/Of thee I sing."
The song, titled "America," became the de facto national anthem for the next one hundred years. Patriotic Americans would stand upon hearing it sung. However, in World War I, Americans decided they wanted an national anthem that was not so similar to that of Britain. As a result, "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the new national song, and Congress formally declared it to be the national anthem in 1931.