On July 4, 1776, after weeks of debate, the Second Continental Congress finally approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Fifty-six delegates from the thirteen colonies signed the document; however, not all of the delegates signed it on July 4th. When they did sign it has been debated for more than 200 years.
Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams all wrote that the Declaration was signed on July 4th. But in 1796, signer Thomas McKean of Delaware disputed their writings, saying that many of the delegates weren’t present on the 4th, and indeed some had not even been elected at that point, so it was impossible for everyone to have signed the document on that day. Although Jefferson and Adams denied this, the Secret Journals of Congress, published in 1821 backed up McKean’s claim. The entry for August 2 reads:
The declaration of Independence being engrossed & compared at the table was signed by the Members.
There are historians who argue that it is impossible that Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams could have all been mistaken; however, the widely accepted consensus is that most of the delegates signed the Declaration on August 2, 1776.
For a complete list of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and their bios, click here.