Edmond P. DeRousse

4th of July A US Celebration of Independence

If you were asked “Why do we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July?” Most would say it is the day the US colonies declared their independence from England. Why is it on the 4th and not the 2nd, or even a different month?

In reality not everyone in the British Colonies believed complete separation from Great Britain was wise. Those who did believe in complete separation were considered radical. But in April 1775 the initial battle of the Revolutionary War for independence broke out.

In early 1776 Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” bestselling pamphlets had done much to sway public opinion. By the middle of 1776 hostilities between Great Britain and the colonies had grown and many more colonists were favoring independence. 

The Continental Congress met on June 7, 1776, at Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia, introduced a motion calling for independence. There was a heated debate, and the Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s motion. Instead, a five-man committee was appointed to draft a formal statement justifying the break from Great Britain. The five men were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston. The formal resolution was presented to the Continental Congress on July 2nd.  The Congress with a near unanimous vote (the New York delegation abstained, but later voted affirmatively) voted in favor of Lee’s resolution to separate.  

John Adams, on that day, wrote a letter to wife saying, “July 2 will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival”. He suggested celebrations should include “Pomp and Parade. Games, Sprots, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other.” 

It was on July 4, 1776, that the Second Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence announcing the colonies’ separation from Great Britain. July 4th became the date of the birth of American Independence. 

After it was adopted, public reading of the Declaration of Independence involved festivities including bonfires, concerts, parades, and firing cannons and muskets. Philadelphia held the 1st annual celebration of independence on the 4th of July, 1777 even though congress was still occupied with the ongoing war. On Philadelphia’s waterfront ship’s cannons fired a 13 gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported: “at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” That same night the Sons of Liberty set off fireworks over Boston Common.

 Did You Know?

1.      The signing of the Declaration of Independence did not occur until August 2, 1776.

2.       John Adams believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. 

3.      In Pre-revolutionary years, annual celebrations of the King’s birthday were held by the colonists. There would be bell ringing, bonfires, parades, and speechmaking. But in the summer of 1776 some colonists would celebrate the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for King George III.

4.      In 1778 George Washington issued a double ration of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence.

5.      Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.

6.      By the end of the 18th century, the two major political parties- the Federalist Party and Democratic-Republicans- began holding separate Fourth of July celebrations in many large cities.

7.      On November 1, 1800, President John Quincy Adams became the first President to reside in the White House. But it was Thomas Jefferson who first celebrated the Fourth of July at the White House in 1801. The celebration featured horse races, parades, food and drink.    

8.       On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. President James Monroe also died on the 4th of July but in 1831. Some belief a fourth President, Zachary Taylor, could have died after eating spoiled fruit at a Fourth of July celebration.

9.      The Fourth of July became a federal holiday in 1870 but it was not until 1941 that it became a paid holiday for federal employees.

10.   Every July 4, descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence tap the Liberty Bell 13 times in honor of the original 13 colonies.

11.   About 16,000 July 4 fireworks displays happen around the country each year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

                                   LET’S CELEBRATE IT!!