- The first printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed on the night of 4 July, 1776 by Philadelphia's John Dunlap and dispatched throughout America the next morning. It was this broadside version which was read aloud at New York on 9 July and at Boston on 18 July. The copy linked here, from the Massachusetts Historical Society, is one of just 25 known to exist.
- John Adams' manuscript draft of the Declaration, made before the Continental Congress started editing the document and in fact before the full Committee of Five (that is, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston) had made their changes.
- Thomas Jefferson's manuscript copy of the Declaration; one of several copies he made, this one shows the Declaration as drafted by the Committee of Five.
- John Adams' letter to Abigail Adams of 3 July, 1776 (his second of the day, in fact), in which he writes:
"But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. 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 forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."- I also recommend an article by Charles Warren in the July, 1945 issue of William & Mary Quarterly, "Fourth of July Myths." Warren dissects some of the more longstanding stories about "Independence Day" (most of which, interestingly, are still with us today, more than sixty years after Warren tried to bat them down).
However you plan to celebrate, I hope you enjoy the day, and remember to take a moment to pause and reflect on what it's all about.