When you hear the Fourth of July, what do you think of? Some of you may picture a beautiful sunny afternoon with family and friends at the park or beach. Maybe you are having a barbecue. Others think of the magnificent firework displays that take place all across the USA. Parades, concerts, and baseball games are other fun activities that are popular on the 4th. Whatever your tradition is, chances are good you are wearing red, white, and blue to represent the American flag.
Although of these summertime pastimes are festive, there is a reason for the celebrations. It is the United States of America’s Independence Day. The famous holiday dates back to the 18th century when the new 13 colonies fought for their independence from Great Britain in the American Revolution.
The American Revolution lasted from 1775-1783. However, it was in 1776 that the delegates voted for complete independence from the king. The Continental Congress declared its Declaration of Independence on July 2nd. Two days later, Thomas Jefferson drafted the historical document. Therefore, July 4th is the celebrated holiday known as the birth of America’s independence.
The Idea of Independence
It was considered radical to desire total independence from the monarchy government. The Revolutionary War began in April of 1775, but just a few months later the population favored independence in its entirety. Great Britain opposed the activities of the 13 colonies, and great hostility grew between the distant lands. Thomas Paine penned the convincing pamphlet “Common Sense” that persuaded many colonists to view independence the only plausible answer. It was published in the early months of 1776.
Later that year, on June 7, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee proposed the idea of independence while the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House, which later became Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The motion stirred a controversial debate, so Congress decided to delay the vote. However, five men were to draft a formal declaration to justify the action. These men included Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York.
Less than a month later, Congress held a meeting to vote either in favor of or against Lee’s resolution for independence. The vote was nearly unanimous except for the New York delegate. Initially, he abstained, but eventually affirmed. Ironically, John Adams penned a letter to his wife, Abigail, that July 2nd would be “celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” He also noted that the holiday should include “Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” Many of these celebrations are traditional now in the 21st century.
It was not until the fourth that the Congress officially accepted the Declaration of Independence. Despite the fact that the vote was adopted on July 2nd, we all know what day is celebrated as Independence Day.
Celebrating Independence Day
Before America’s independence, the king’s birthday was an annual holiday. The day consisted of bonfires, processions, speeches, and bells. During the Revolutionary War, colonists held mock funerals of King George III as a way to symbolize the end of his monarchy and the celebration of independence. Other festivities included concerts, parades, bonfires, and the firing of cannons, just as John Adams desired.
The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia, even though the Revolutionary War was not over. In 1778, George Washington, who was a commander in the war, allowed his soldiers to enjoy double rations of rum. Massachusetts was the first state to declare the Fourth of July a state holiday after the army won a battle at Yorktown.
The Revolutionary War ended victoriously for America in 1783. The celebrations continued every year across the United States. The holiday was drawing Americans closer together in unity.
An Official National Holiday
It was not until 1870, nearly a century later, that Congress made the Fourth of July a federal holiday. In 1941, it became a paid holiday for all federal employees. Although its political importance is not felt as much in the 21st century, the traditional celebrations still take place. People do not recite the Declaration of Independence, but they do enjoy spending time with family and friends barbecuing, going to parades, and watching fireworks. This has been standard since the late 19th century. However, since the beginning of time, the most common symbol of Independence Day has been the American flag. It can be seen flying all across the nation.