Trivia: Seven Questions and Answers about the Declaration of Independence

Here are some trivia questions relating to the Declaration of Independence. The answers are below. See how you do with them.

1. What is the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence?
2. Who was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?
3. Why wasn't George Washington the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence?
4. Who composed the primary wording of the Declaration of Independence?
5. Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July by shooting fireworks?
6. Was something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?
7. What was done with the original copy of the Declaration of Independence during World War II?

1. During a session of the Second Continental Congress assembled on July 2, 1776, delegates from twelve colonies voted in favor of declaring independence (New York abstained from voting). The process of debating and revision continued into the late morning of July 4. In the evening of July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress "unanimously" (all thirteen colonies) approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. It took several weeks for the Declaration to be "engrossed" (written on parchment in a clear hand in preparation for signing). Although the exact date has long been in dispute, most historians now agree that nearly all the delegates signed the Declaration of Independence in a special session of the Second Continental Congress on August 2, with a few signing later.

2. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. His large and flamboyant signature cannot be missed: twice larger than most of the other signatures and three times larger than some. It is in the middle of the document, with the other fifty-five smaller signatures in six columns underneath his. There are several versions of what he said immediately after signing the Declaration. Two of the more popular ones are: "There, I guess King George will be able to read that!" and "The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward." There is no clear documentation for what he said, but the various stories make for good telling.

3. When the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, George Washington was a voting delegate from Virginia. But on the thirty-sixth day after convening (June 15, 1775), the Congress elected Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He immediately left the Congress and spent the next two weeks at home and in New York preparing for his new assignment. He took command of the Revolutionary forces in Massachusetts on July 3, 1775. George Washington was with his troops a year later when--on July 4, 1776--the Declaration of Independence was discussed and passed. He, therefore, did not vote for or sign the Declaration of Independence.

4. On June 7, 1776, a motion was introduced in the Second Continental Congress for the thirteen colonies to declare their independence from Britain. The Congress appointed a committee of five to prepare a sample declaration for discussion purposes three weeks later on July 1, the date set for a vote. After discussing the issues, four committee members turned to the fifth member, Thomas Jefferson, to draft the document to be discussed by the entire Congress. On July 4, 1776, with a few revisions, Jefferson's draft proposal was accepted as the final text of the Declaration of Independence.

5. In July of 1776 (exact date unknown) John Adams, an influential member of the Second Continental Congress and later to become our first Secretary of State and then the second President of the United States, proclaimed that passage of the Declaration of Independence should be celebrated each year from one end of the continent to the other with fireworks "from this time forward forever more." The first documented celebration of Independence Day with fireworks was the next year in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. An article describing that celebration appeared in our country's earliest daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Evening Post: "The evening was closed with . . . a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated."

6. In the Walt Disney adventure/heist movie, "National Treasure" (2004), supposedly there is a coded message on the back of the Declaration of Independence that points to the location of the national treasure. Since that movie there has been much speculation about a coded message on the back of the Declaration. But here's the truth of the matter: on the back of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, at the bottom, upside-down, is written: "Original Declaration of Independence / dated 4th July 1776." According to the National Archives, "While no one knows for certain who wrote it, it is known that early in its life, the large parchment document was rolled up for storage. So, it is likely that the notation was added simply as a label." There are no hidden/coded messages!

7. On December 23, 1941, barely two weeks after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the original signed copies of the Declaration of Independence and of the U.S. Constitution were packed in a specially designed protective container, latched with padlocks and sealed with lead, weighing about 150 pounds. On December 26 and 27, 1941, accompanied by Secret Service agents, the documents traveled by train from Washington, D.C., to Louisville, Kentucky. The train was met in Louisville by a cavalry troop of the 13th Armored Division. Escorted by the armored division, the documents were taken to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where they were secretly stored in the United States Bullion Depository, a fortified vault-building used to store our country's gold reserves and other precious items. After the war they were returned to Washington, D.C. Valuables from several European countries were also stored there during the War.

How did you do with them?

(Sources of information include: personal knowledge; Armitage, David. The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007; Montgomery, D.H., The Leading facts of American History, New York: Chautauqua Press, 1891; documents from the National Archives; facsimiles of original early documents; Web site, U. S. Department of State, Office of the Historian; and