A brief NY history of the 4th of July

Sunday marks the 245th birthday of the United States of America, but only the 94th anniversary of July 4 becoming our official independence day holiday.

Dates, of course, can be fluid things. The first official motion in the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain was made by a Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, on June 7, 1776. The actual vote in the Continental Congress to secede was taken on July 2. It wasn’t until two days later, July 4, that representatives of the original 13 colonies voted to accept the Declaration of Independence.

The process is replete with oddities involving New York. A few examples:

• Robert Livingston was the New York delegate on the five-member committee appointed after Lee’s proposal to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Britain. However, most of the writing was done by its youngest member, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Curiously, their “Declaration of Independence” does not contain the word “independence” except in its title.

• The same Robert Livingston did not initially sign the Declaration because he claimed it was too soon to take such a step and was back home in New York when it was ratified in Philadelphia. (Interestingly, for various reasons several other leading “founding fathers” also did not sign, among them George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.)

• Philip Livingstone of Albany, a first cousin once removed of Robert Livingstone and one of three Livingstone family members who were among the colony’s 56 delegates to the Continental Congress, is the only one of the trio who signed the Declaration of Independence. The other New York signers were Lewis Morris, Francis Lewis, and William Floyd.

• The New York delegation did not at first ratify the Declaration. In fact, it didn’t vote on any proposals, claiming its colonial government had never provided full instructions on what stance to take. It eventually did vote on July 15 to ratify, claiming instructions had finally been received.

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