If you’ve grown up as an American living in the United States, it’s impossible not to know that July 4th is celebrated as Independence Day each year. And of course, officially, it is.

But is that really the day what we now call the Declaration of Independence was signed? 

Well, actually, no.  

Okay, so if that’s the case, what’s the story?

First, almost all of us think of the Civil War that was fought from 1860 to 1864 as the only “civil war” fought by Americans, but in truth, the American Revolutionary War was a civil war, as well. 

Many people living in the British colonies at the time of the American Revolution were fiercely loyal to Great Britain as is explained in a script for an episode of the Voice of America [VOA] radio program entitled, “The MAKING OF A NATION.” 

In case you’re unaware of the program, It’s an ongoing series about the history of the United States and in program 13, writer Nancy Steinbach states: “As many as 30,000 Americans fought for the British during the war.  Others helped Britain by reporting the movements of American rebel troops.”

In fact some 100,000 American colonists who remained loyal to Britain moved back to England after the so-called “Yankees” won the war.

African Americans also fought on both sides. Again, from the Steinbach VOA script: “Black slaves in the colonies also were divided about what side to join during the American Revolution.

“Thousands fought for the British, because that side offered them freedom if they served in the army or navy.  Some American states also offered to free slaves who served, and hundreds of free blacks fought on the American side.  Many slaves, however, felt their chances for freedom were better with the British.  Details are not exact, but history experts say more blacks probably joined the British in the North than in the South.

“At least five thousand African-Americans served with the colonial American forces.  Most had no choice.  They were slaves, and their owners took them to war or sent them to replace their sons. Others felt that a nation built on freedom might share some of that freedom with them.”

So where did we Americans get the notion that July 4th is Independence Day?

It originates in the fact that the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, but it was not signed until almost a month later. The Congress did not have the approval of all 13 colonies until July 9, 1776. On July 19, the Congress ordered that an official copy of the document be created. 

The order called for handwritten ornamental script to be used on parchment paper with the title "The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America."

The actual signing of the Declaration of Independence began on August 2, 1776, and as President of the Second Continental Congress, John Hancock was the first to sign this historic document. 

However, some of the delegates were not in Philadelphia on that day, and so signed the document later, but in fact, not all delegates signed the document. 

Ultimately, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence included future Presidents, Vice Presidents, and members of the United States Congress. 

The Declaration of Independence − along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights − is on public display at the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, DC.