A Brief History of Independence Day
Have you ever wondered about the history behind our most popular holiday’s?
If you’ve followed my blog or social media then you know that I love a good bit of history trivia. I’ve done blog posts on Johnny Appleseed Day, International Women’s Day, and World Bumblebee Day. Since it’s July I figured I would do a bit of research about Independence Day (also known as The 4th of July) and share it with you.
Without further ado, I give you….
A Brief History of Independence Day
Why the 4th of July?
Independence day, also known as the 4th of July, commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. It was on this day that the original 13 colonies claimed independence from England. This momentous event eventually led to the formation of the United States of America.
The Revolutionary war had already been raging for a year prior (1775), and would continue until 1783. In June of 1776 the Continental Congress held a session in the Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall) where Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution that would spur the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t until July 1st of 1776 that the Continental Congress would reconvene and vote on a Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson. The vote passed and revisions on the document continued until the afternoon of July 4th, with a final vote being cast on the finalized document. This final vote also passed and during the evening of July 4th 1776 John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence.
Today, the original copy of the Declaration is housed in the National Archives located in Washington D.C.. It’s interesting to note that only John Hancock signed the Declaration on July 4th. The 55 other men signed the document on a later date.
In fact, at the time of the signing John Adams believed that the true date to celebrate American Independence was actually July 2nd, the date the historic vote took place. He even wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2nd “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generation, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration would include “Pomp and Parade… Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”. He believed so strongly that July 2nd should be Independence day that he would turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest throughout his life.
Celebrations Throughout The Years
- In pre-Revolutionary years, colonists had held annual celebration of the kings birthday. During the summer of 1776 some colonists celebrated the birth of independence by holding mock funerals of King George III. This as a way of symbolizing the end of his hold on America and of the triumph of liberty.
- July 8th, 1776 Philadelphia held a Celebration of Independence during which citizens were summoned by the ringing of the liberty bell to hear the Declaration of Independence being read. Festivities also included concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of muskets and cannons.
- July 4th, 1777 Philadelphia held the first ever annual commemoration of Independence Day. The celebration included fireworks, parades, drinking, and the firing of cannons. Meanwhile, congress was still occupied with the ongoing Revolutionary War.
- July 1778 General George Washington issued double rations of rum to all of his soldiers to officially mark the holiday.
- In 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
- After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Americans continued to have small Independence Day celebrations. These celebrations allowed the new nation’s political leaders to address citizens and create a feeling of unity.
- The White House held its first Independence Day party on July 4th, 1801 during the administration of Thomas Jefferson.
- July 4th, 1826 both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away, 1826 marked 50 years of American independence. (This coincidence caused some controversy at the time and is the focus of my next blog post.)
- In 1870, the United States Congress made July 4th a federal holiday
- During 1941 the provision making July 4th a federal holiday was expanded to give all federal employees a paid holiday.
- In more modern times the Fourth of July has become the focus for leisure activities and family get-togethers. These often involve fireworks and outdoor barbecues.
- Every year on July 4th, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped (not rung) 13 times in honor of the original colonies.
The most common symbol of the holiday is the American Flag, as well as anything in the flags colors (Red, White, and Blue). A common musical accompaniment is the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
The original American flag had 13 stars arranged in a circle, each star represented one of the original colonies. The arrangement of a circle was supposed to signify that all of the colonies were equal, no one was above the other.
America’s National Bird is the Bald Eagle, which was proposed by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Fun fact, Benjamin Franklin proposed the Turkey as national BIrd.
For more history facts and trivia, see my other blog posts here. Have a holiday or topic you want featured next? Let me know in the comments.
For more history related to The 4th of July check out my The Strange Coincidence Of July 4th 1826 blog post.
Additional reading can also be found in the book “Holiday Hilarity: A Humorous History Of Celebration” by Jeffrey Gurian & Otakara Klettke (you can find my review of that book here). I also found this History Channel article helpful.