In early 1776, John Adams travelled the snowy roads from New England back to Philadelphia for another extended session in Congress. Either along the way or shortly after he arrived in Philadelphia, Adams compiled a list of things he wanted to see accomplished. Near the end of that list, in somewhat scrawled handwriting, he wrote three simple words: “Declaration of Independency.”
The next several months would involve countless hours of discussion and debate over the colonies’ relationship to Britain with the real breakthrough not taking place until mid-summer. Then on July 3, 1776, Adams finally wrote to his wife, Abigail, declaring,
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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time forward forever more (2–3).
On July 2, members of the Continental Congress had voted to declare their independence from Britain. And, as David McCullough suggests, “It was John Adams, more than anyone, who had made it happen” (McCullough, John Adams, 129). In writing to his wife, Adams was right about future celebrations involving bells, bonfires, and illuminations. But, for a variety of reasons, he was wrong about the date of such festivities. Adams’s mistake is a reminder to us all that even the most influential people cannot predict the future with perfect accuracy.