Fourth on the Fifth

The letter John Adams wrote on the 3rd, plus the reason why I'm not really writing about student loans after all. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

We’ve had a lot of new subscribers over the last few days. Thank you and welcome! You’re starting off with an unusual holiday edition of Understandably, but we think it’s a good one. And hey, there’s a lot of other great stuff coming up soon. Stick around!

Also, congratulations to Colt Alton of Denver, Colorado, who was the first reader to reply with the correct answers to all three questions from Friday’s trivia challenge. (Answers: 2.5 million; the Florida Marlins; 56%.)

Fourth on the Fifth

Imagine you’re John Adams. You’re proud to be in Philadelphia in July 1776 as the rebellious colonies declare their independence from the King of Great Britain, and proud to have played an important role in that historic moment.

You write home confidently to your wife, Abigail:

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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Wait. July 2? Yes, because that was the day on which the colonies actually voted, 12 to 1 (with one abstention, New York), to declare independence.

In fairness, Adams wrote this famous letter on July 3, 1776, so obviously, he couldn’t have known how Americans would instead settle on July 4 to commemorate independence.

As for why that date won out—two reasons, I think:

  1. First, the Continental Congress spent two days after the vote working through revisions to the Declaration of Independence, finishing on July 4.

  2. Also, the most famous original copies of the Declaration document had a heading across the top: “In Congress, July 4, 1776.”

By the way, nobody actually signed the Declaration of Independence until August, so we can’t peg the date we celebrate to that.

Anyway, I love the Fourth of July, and this year was no exception.

First, I love what the day represents. Of course, the United States is far from perfect, but even when I’m frustrated with some things, I remind myself that it’s one heck of a country that we’ve built here.

Second, no matter what day we hold our celebrations—July 2, July 4; this year, even July 5—I’m glad that our forefathers had the foresight to declare independence at this time of year, so that it’s a summer holiday.

That said, I learned in looking up Adams’s remarks about July 2 that if he’d really had his way, Independence Day have been in the winter. In that same letter to Abigail that I quoted above, he laments that the colonies hadn’t been able to agree to declare independence six months or more earlier.

He seems to think that had we been quicker, we could have incorporated Canada into our new nation, and convinced foreign nations to support an even larger America against Great Britain.

There are some secondary sources on the internet that say Adams refused to participate in July 4 celebrations during his lifetime, but I can’t find anything specific. It’s clear that later in life he did set aside the argument for July 2, however, and he indeed did recognize and celebrate with the rest of America on July 4.

In a truly ironic twist of fate, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson, his longtime friend and sometime rival, died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826.

Anyway, thanks to the quirk in the calendar—the 4th this year was a Sunday—we all get an extra bonus: the Fourth on the Fifth!

If things go according to plan, by the time many of you read this, I’ll be heading to the beach with my wife and daughter. I hope you get a chance to stretch the holiday out a bit, too.

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Student loans

On Friday, I teased that I planned to write about the Founding Fathers and student loans. I’m going to give you the very short version, for reasons that will become clear.

This all goes back to an 1829 book I once found called Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, which contained a passage about Thomas Stone, a lesser-known signer from Maryland:

[Stone] was anxious to prosecute the study of law. But although his father was a gentleman of fortune, his son was under the necessity of borrowing money to enable him to carry his laudable design into effect.

I thought was kind of intriguing; basically, he had to pay off his student loans by working at a job he didn’t particularly like, which sounded like it had modern relevance.

When putting together that story this weekend, though, I dug a bit deeper and realized that the real way Stone overcame his indebtedness and became rich was by buying and developing a 400-acre Maryland farm, which was worked by slaves “for generations” afterward.

Not quite the feel-good story I had once hoped, to put it lightly—and whatever fun parallels I’d hoped to draw between the 18th century and the 21st century quickly fell apart.

Call for comments: Fourth of July, plans for the Fifth—and you tell me: What would you have done with this Thomas Stone story?

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7 other things worth your time

  • A bizarre standoff on I-95 in Massachusetts ended with the arrest of 11 armed men who claimed to be part of a militia traveling from Rhode Island to Maine for “training.” This was a scary story, but my favorite detail is that police say they caught the group because two of their cars ran out of gas maybe 50 miles into their trip. (Huffington Post)

  • As U.S. businesses closed for the holiday weekend on Friday, a Russian cybercrime gang used ransomware to shut down a Florida-based IT infrastructure provider. Ripples through client companies shut down 200 or more businesses worldwide. (BBC)

  • Some of you have already seen this (and emailed me about it), but I wrote over the weekend about the news that Elon Musk now lives in a $50,000, 400-square-foot tiny house, and why I find this so fascinating. (Me, on

  • Can it really be true that in the entire United States, there are only 21 bars catering to lesbian women (down from a supposed high of 200)? (Insider)

  • In a policy developed using guidance from the National Eating Disorders Association, Pinterest has banned all weight loss ads from their platform. (Scary Mommy)

  • An intriguing story about how Southwest Airlines went from a 97% drop in passenger travel a year ago, to “a superambitious flight plan for growth” that involved snapping up the gate leases that competitors were shedding, and adding new destinations with a heavy focus on vacation travel, since business travel is likely to recover more slowly. (Fortune)

  • A gas leak west of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula broke out from an underwater pipeline, causing bright flames to appear to boil up to the Gulf of Mexico's surface and create what many described as an "eye of fire." Eventually the fire was extinguished. (CBS News)

Translation from the Spanish: Near the Gulf of Mexico fire, in Campeche Sound, a few meters from the Ku-Charly platform (in the Ku Maloob Zaap Integral Production Asset). Three boats are helping douse the flames.

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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.