Celebrating Independence Day
Most of us know the general history and significance of Independence Day. We're revisiting details that can renew our appreciation of the holiday.
July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence since 1776, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades, and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues. Although most of us know the general history and significance of Independence Day, revisiting some details can renew our appreciation of the holiday.
Ironically, when the initial battles in the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists wanted complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were considered radical. But halfway through the following year, many more colonists had come to choose independence, due to growing hostility against Britain.
On, then off, then on again
In 1776 the Continental Congress met on June 7th, at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, and Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. After heated debate, Congress decided to postpone the resolution and instead, appointed Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert Livingston of New York to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.
Britain’s King George III was portrayed as an inflexible tyrant who had squandered his right to govern the colonies, but in reality the situation was more complex. Parliamentary ministers, not the crown, were responsible for colonial policies, though George still had means of direct and indirect influence.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” —Nelson Mandela
Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence on July 2nd, and on July 4th, formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had been written primarily by Jefferson. Though the vote took place on July 2nd, from then on the 4th became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.
Festivities including the firing of cannons and muskets, parades, bonfires, and concerts, accompanied the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence. The first annual commemoration of independence took place in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, while Congress was still occupied with the ongoing war.
July 4th was made a federal holiday by Congress in 1870 and in 1938 it became a paid national holiday.
Fun facts about Independence Day
Here are a few fun facts about July 4th celebrations and the Declaration of Independence:
- Before the Revolutionary years, colonists celebrated King George III’s birthday with bell ringing, bonfires, processions and speechmaking. In contrast, during the summer of 1776 some colonists celebrated the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for the king as a way of symbolizing the end of the monarchy’s hold on America and the triumph of liberty.
- George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence in 1778, and in 1781, several months before the key American victory at the Battle of Yorktown, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
- Just two people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776—the president of Congress, John Hancock, and its secretary, Charles Thompson. Everyone else signed it later.
- Of course, Nicholas Cage was right. There is something inscribed on the back of the Declaration of Independence. But it’s not a treasure map to fortune and glory. It’s a simple message verifying the authenticity of the document. The mystery signer remains unknown.
- The Declaration of Independence was written on a laptop. Yes, a laptop. But, not the modern tablet you may be on right now. Back in 1776, a laptop was a writing desk or board that could fit on your lap.
- One signer of the Declaration of Independence changed his mind. Richard Stockton, from New Jersey, was captured by the British in November 1776. After months of mistreatment in jail, he repudiated his signature on the Declaration of Independence and swore his allegiance to King George III.
- The stars on the original American flag were in a circle so all the Colonies would appear equal.
- Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national bird but was overruled by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who recommended the bald eagle.
- John Adams believed 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.
When you celebrate this weekend, please join me in recognizing the birth of our country’s freedom and independence, something we should cherish and never take for granted.