I hate to be the one to break the news, but we're celebrating the anniversary of the nation's independence on the wrong date. I'm serious. America did not become an independent nation on July 4. The deed was done on July 2 when the Continental Congress approved a resolution that ''these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States. . . . '' The Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, but that was only a formality. In fact, John Adams, who was privy to all these events, knew what he was talking about when he said that ''the Second Day of July will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.'' It's just that succeeding generations of Americans took time into their own hands.
For this reason, we have all those silly Monday holidays, no matter that they rarely fall on the appropriate day. This year we celebrate Columbus Day on Oct. 10 instead of Oct. 12. Actually, we should honor the discovery of America on Oct. 11, which was the date Columbus allegedly sighted the New World at around 10 p.m., although his fleet at the time was 35 miles from terra firma - an unlikely sighting unless it turns out that, after all, the earth is flat. And the big celebration - the 400th anniversary of the event - took place in Chicago in 1893 and not in 1892 as it should have.
We honor George Washington's birthday on the third Monday in February and, even if we were to celebrate it on Feb. 22, it would still be wrong because he was actually born on Feb. 11 (Old Style), which is too close to Lincoln's birthday, I guess, for some people. For years we used to inaugurate presidents of the United States on the fourth of March, but in 1933 we changed it to Jan. 20. As for Thanksgiving Day - well, that history is more ruffled than a turkey's feathers.
Getting back to the matter of Independence Day, one notes that Americans have tinkered with time in more ways than one. During the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, President Grant opened the really big shew on May 10, 1876, rather than on some auspicious July date. It closed on an equally inauspicious day, Nov. 10, 1876. During the bicentennial, President Ford's White House proclamation was issued on June 29, 1976 - beats me why the date was chosen - and urged all American communities on July 4 to ring bells for two minutes (signifying two centuries of independence) beginning at precisely 2 p.m. (Please , don't ask me about the matter of 2 p.m.)
Writing on July 4, 1869, Charles Francis Adams, ignoring the words of his grandfather John Adams, recognized the Fourth as the big day and went on to suggest a double anniversary, America's birthday and the Battle of Gettysburg of 1863: ''As upon this day ninety-three years ago this nation was brought into existence through the efforts of others, so, upon this day six years ago, I am disposed to believe, through our own efforts, it dramatically touched the climax of its great argument.'' Sorry, Charlie, but the Battle of Gettysburg was over by July 3, 1863.
Believe me, I've got no problems about a nation rewriting its history, even when it comes to Independence Day. But I think that historians who know better should be given the right to celebrate the holiday on July 2 - except, of course , when it falls, as it does this year, on a Saturday.