A Little History
A lot of people think we celebrate the Fourth of July because it is the day we received our independence from England. Not exactly.
Way back in the 18th century the United States was not the United States. In fact, what we now call states were called colonies. The United States was actually an extension of England. People traveled from England aboard ships to settle in America, but eventually differences in life, thought, and interests began to develop which caused a rift between Britain and America.
When the colonies were first settled they were allowed to pretty much develop freely without hardly any interface from Britain, but things abruptly changed in 1763. Britain decided they needed to take more control over the colonies. They decided the colonies needed to return revenue to the mother country and they needed to pay for the colonies defense, which was being provided by Britain. But the colonies did not agree with these new rules at all. They felt that since they were not represented in Parliament that they shouldn’t have to pay any kinds of taxes to the mother country, hence the saying “no taxation without representation.” When Britain continued to tax, the colonies formed the First Continental Congress to persuade the British government to recognize their rights. When this didn’t work a war was declared, which became the American Revolution.
After the First Continental Congress failed to persuade Britain to recognize the colonies’ rights, and war was declared, things began to heat up. Many people who were both considered moderates and radicals had decided that enough was enough and that any kind of taxation without representation was considered tyranny. People such as John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Ben Franklin, as well as a group called the Sons of Liberty, decided that it was time to united all of the colonies and to stand together against Britain.
During the course of the American Revolution a second Continental Congress was formed. It is this group that adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was drafted by John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. After it was revised, it was sent to Congress for approval. All 13 colonies stood behind the Declaration of Independence and adopted it in full on July 4, 1776.
This is where the Fourth of July holiday comes in. The Fourth of July is known as Independence Day because that is the day the Second Continental Congress adopted the full and formal Declaration of Independence. Even though we had declared we were independent, the American Revolution was still being fought, which meant that we were still not independent. Regardless of the ongoing war the following year, people in Philadelphia celebrated a muted Fourth of July.
While celebrations on July 4th during the American Revolution were modest, after the war ended in 1783 the Fourth of July became a holiday in many places. The celebrations included speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks. To this day the Fourth of July is the most patriotic holiday celebrated in the United States.
The Story of the Stars and Stripes
American flags have changed with the country. Each time a new state had been admitted to the union, the layout of the stars changed. During the first few years of the nation’s existence, it didn’t have one official flag. Rather a number of similar looking red, white and blue designs were used, including the circular star design attributed to Betsy Ross. Since 1818, July 4th has been used as the date on which the American flag, as we know it, was adopted.
Presidential Births and Deaths
Was it a coincidence? Three of USA’s early presidents died on the 4th of July. Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding, July 4th, 1826. Jefferson and Adams were also the only two men to have signed the Declaration of Independence and later become presidents. Ironically enough, five years later, President James Monroe also died on the same day in 1831. Destiny ran a different course in 1872 when Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4th. To date, Coolidge is the only president to be born on Independence Day.
Two Days Late
While July 4th has been forever enshrined as the independence day of United States, American people are actually celebrating two days later. The Second Continental Congress met on July 2nd to formally approve the new nation’s independence. The Congress approved the Declaration of Independence two days later, on July 4th.
When Did Fireworks Start?
It isn’t the 4th of July without a grand fireworks show. Accounts from the Pennsylvania Evening Post in 1777 indicate that the city celebrated with gun salutes and fireworks. Philadelphia enjoyed bonfires and other events to commemorate our nation’s first official birthday. Cannon salutes were also popular, and the first Independence Day celebration included the firing of 13 cannons, reflective of our first 13 states.
Who Signed the Declaration on the 4th of July?
There is considerable debate among historians as to who, if anyone, signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. Some scholars believe the document was signed by Congress on August 2nd, as that was the day when a clean copy was finally acquired by Timothy Matlack, who was the assistant to the secretary of Congress. In the years following 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson claimed that Congress did, in fact, sign it on the 4th of July—but, again, some of the signatures were from men who were not present on that particular date. One story claims that the most famous signature of all time, John Hancock’s, was the only one to be added to the Declaration on July 4th, 1776.
The Dog Days of Summer
The 4th of July is the biggest day of the year for hotdogs. More hotdogs are eaten on this day than any other day of the year. Estimates place the number of hotdogs eaten on this date at 155 million, or enough to stretch across the American nation more than five times over. We wonder what percentage of those 155 million hotdogs are consumed during the annual hotdog eating contest usually held over the 4th of July.
Uncle Sam Gives You the Day Off
For most American people, the 4th of July is a beautiful summer day off from work, but it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t until 1785 that Congress made Independence Day an official unpaid holiday. In 1938 that was changed to a paid holiday.
All American – Not Quite
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, eight were born in England. The liberty bell, which is a symbol of our independence, was cast in a British foundry.
Have a wonderful 4th of July!