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Your Independence Day In History: A famous document and a famous speech

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Fireworks go off behind the Washington Monument in Washington, DC during a Fourth of July celebration in 1986. (Source: U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons) Fireworks go off behind the Washington Monument in Washington, DC during a Fourth of July celebration in 1986. (Source: U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)
Fireworks go off in Washington, DC near the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. (Source: Architect of the Capitol/Wikimedia Commons) Fireworks go off in Washington, DC near the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. (Source: Architect of the Capitol/Wikimedia Commons)
The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France on July 4, 1876, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ad Meskens) The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France on July 4, 1876, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Ad Meskens)

(RNN) – Happy birthday, Murica.

I'm hoping you already know this, but on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, sending a giant obscene gesture straight to King George III's desk, long before obscene gestures became ingrained in our culture. The wording of the document is flowery and beautiful, because Thomas Jefferson was a show-off. I think it's the best thing ever written.

But did you know John Adams didn't think July 4 would be celebrated as a national holiday? He thought it would be July 2, because that was when the Continental Congress adopted a resolution severing ties with England (at least it was a better idea than Benjamin Franklin wanting the turkey to be the national bird instead of the ubercool bald eagle). Let's all take a moment of silence in memory of a bygone era when Congress was actually capable of doing something worthwhile.

Or better yet, let John Wayne stir up your emotions by telling you why this country is so star-spangled awesome.

It's a big day worthy of a big celebration, so go celebrate the only way we know how - by burning your house down as a result of too much lighter fluid on your grill, blow off two or three of your fingers with illegal fireworks (or create a safe display online) and wear some ridiculously gaudy red-white-and-blue ensemble you wouldn't be caught dead in any other day of the year.

But above all else, watch baseball.

Here are some of the events of note that happened July 4.

Life and death

I am nothing if not your source for useless trivia, so here's some regarding the presidency. No other day has more presidential deaths than July 4. March 8 (Fillmore and Taft) and Dec. 26 (Truman and Ford) both have two presidential deaths, but July 4 has three, and is the only day when two gave up the ghost within a few hours of each other.

John Adams died on the country's 50th birthday in 1826. His last words are widely considered to be "Thomas Jefferson survives." He was wrong, because Jefferson died earlier that same day. James Monroe was the third president to die on July 4 in 1831.

Nov. 2 (Harding and Polk) is the only day on which two presidents were born, and July 4 is the only day to share a presidential birth and death. The deaths are listed above, and the birth was Calvin Coolidge in 1872.

But that is not all. Not by a long shot. Kathleen Kennedy, the oldest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, was born in 1951. She followed in her famous family's footsteps and served as the lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003. She ran for governor in 2002, but was defeated.

The Kennedys are probably the closest thing we have to royalty, but the next closest is definitely Morganna the Kissing Bandit, who was born in 1954. She was an exotic dancer but made a name for herself by running onto baseball fields and kissing players in the middle of the game. She also went on an episode of To Tell the Truth (do you know which one she is?). Steve Rushin from Sports Illustrated writes about her much better than I could ever hope to.

Dear Abby creator Pauline Phillips was born in 1918, former NFL owner Al Davis was born in 1929, former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was born in 1930, Geraldo Rivera was born in 1943 and Koko the gorilla was born in 1971. Koko is reportedly able to recognize more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, which makes her smarter than me.

Rube Goldberg, the inventor of the unnecessarily complex device named for him, was born in 1883. Goldberg was a cartoonist by trade, but had an engineering degree. The idea for a complex process to accomplish something simple actually predates Goldberg and is known in England as Heath Robinson, after a British cartoonist.

The second, known victim of the Zodiac Killer was murdered in 1969. Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau were shot at Blue Springs Rock Park just before midnight. Both were shot multiple times, but Mageau survived the attack. Letters written to newspapers from the Zodiac Killer took credit for the murder, but the killer's identity is still not known.

Marie Curie died in 1934, caused by the prolonged exposure to radiation from her experiments, and singer Barry White died in 2003 after suffering a stroke and kidney failure.

Actress Eva Gabor died in 1995, the same day as painter, squirrel adopter and short Afro aficionado Bob Ross. Gabor is famous for having famous sisters and for her role in Green Acres. Ross is famous for painting green acres full of happy, little trees under happy, little clouds.

Overlooked anniversaries

There are a lot of other things that make the Fourth of July a historic day, though a lot of them are in relation to its original significance. The United States Military Academy opened in 1802, the Louisiana Purchase was announced publicly the following year and construction began on the Erie Canal in 1817.

My Country ‘Tis of Thee was written for an Independence Day celebration in 1831, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, Tuskegee Institute opened in 1881, the 50-star U.S. flag debuted in 1960 and the Freedom of Information Act was signed in 1966.

France gave the U.S. the Statue of Liberty as a 100th birthday present in 1876, the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was laid in 2004 and the Statue of Liberty reopened in 2009 following security concerns after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A supernova was seen in 1054 whose remnants formed the Crab Nebula. The explosion was seen in China, the Middle East and possibly by Native Americans. It is one of the only supernova explosions whose date is known.

Something about sports

Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day was held at Yankee Stadium in 1939 where Gehrig gave his famous "Luckiest man" speech. The movie version contains very little of the actual speech and puts the famous line at the end, when in reality it was at the beginning. (The only video I could find of the whole speech was a re-enactment.)

It's also the day in 2007 when the most American of trophies came back home. Joey Chestnut, a speed eater and a true American hero, won the famed Mustard Belt in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest unseating six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi. Chestnut is himself now a six-time defending champion and holds the record with 68 hot dogs eaten. He set the record in 2009 (in 12 minutes) and tied it last year (in 10 minutes).

The day in warfare

The only time in his distinguished military career that George Washington ever surrendered was exactly 22 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. At the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754 during the French and Indian War, a French force twice the size of Washington's British forces attacked the fort on July 3.

After a long standoff, Washington negotiated an honorable surrender that allowed him to leave the garrison the next day with his unit intact.

The city Abraham Lincoln considered the key to Union victory in the Civil War surrendered in 1863 - one day after a Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Vicksburg had been under siege for months by Ulysses Grant, and was the last major port on the Mississippi River under Confederate control.

Grant had tried assaulting the city from the river and from land without success. He also tried diverting the river into Louisiana to bypass Vicksburg, but that attempt failed as well. His only remaining option was to cut off all means of supply and escape and choke the city until it was forced to surrender.

The Union had more than twice the men of the Confederacy and suffered more casualties during the siege because of the strong defenses around Vicksburg. More Confederate soldiers were killed by disease and starvation than by Union guns. Grant started the siege May 25, and Confederate Gen.l John Pemberton surrendered 47 days later, believing the holiday would get him more favorable terms. It also happened to be two days before Grant had planned an all-out assault on the city.

The surrender prompted Lincoln to say "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." Because of the date of surrender, Vicksburg did not officially celebrate Independence Day for 81 years.

Holiday you should celebrate

Independence Day, obviously, but here are a couple of others. It is Sidewalk Egg Frying Day and National Country Music Day. I can't recommend eating an egg cooked on a sidewalk (though a conventionally cooked one on a hamburger is fully endorsed). As for country music, the choice is obvious.

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