Signed over time
Despite the famous painting depicting the members of the Continental Congress all coming together to sign the document, the reality was that it did not happen all at once.
Rick Shenkman, editor of the History News Network, wrote in 2003 that signatories came on different days, with most signing the Declaration of Independence on Aug. 2, 1776.
“Most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later. And their names were not released to the public until later still, January 1777,” Shenkman noted.
Much of the reason why people think July 4 was the day for the signings can be attributed to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who both later claimed that that date was the day.
“Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote, years afterward, that the signing ceremony took place on July 4. When someone challenged Jefferson's memory in the early 1800s Jefferson insisted he was right,” continued Shenkman.
“The truth about the signing was not finally established until 1884 when historian Mellon Chamberlain, researching the manuscript minutes of the journal of Congress, came upon the entry for August 2 noting a signing ceremony.”