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It took over a decade for the Declaration of Independence to matter in American life, Stanford historian says

Celebrating the Declaration of Independence on July 4 is an American tradition, but it took a while for that tradition to develop

Todd Taulman / Getty Images)

On the historic day of July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress, Thomas Jefferson, its primary author, went on a small shopping spree and bought seven pairs of women’s gloves.

According to Jefferson’s records from that day, he also bought a thermometer, said Caroline Winterer, a professor of history in the School of Humanities and Sciences. Winterer, who has been reading the correspondence between the Founding Fathers for her research, learned that much of their exchange had little to do with independence but with tactical operations instead.

As Stanford historian and scholar on early republican America Jonathan Gienapp discovered, it took over a decade for the Declaration of Independence to matter in American life. It wasn’t until the 1790s that the document was revived for partisan purposes, he said.

Here, Winterer and Geinapp discuss other lesser known facts about the history of Independence Day that they discovered during their research.

Both Gienapp, an assistant professor of history, and Winterer, the Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities and director of the Stanford Humanities Center, specialize in the history of the United States. Gienapp’s latest book is The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era . Winterer’s most recent book is American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason.