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History Recap: Independence Day

4th of July History

The Fourth of July celebration commemorates the date on which the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The historical event happened 241 years ago in 1776. Before 1776, there were thirteen American colonies under the rule of the British Empire. On the 4th of July, the colonies declared independence from their empire, and joined together to form the United States of America. The significance of this date is at the core of the nation; Independence Day is the official day the United States of America united.

Background

July 4th Fireworks. Washington DC is a spectacular place to celebrate July 4th! The National Mall, with Washington DC’s monuments and the U. S. Capitol in the background, forms a beautiful and patriotic backdrop to America’s Independence Day celebrations. Source: Library of Congress.

Before 1776, the thirteen colonies in America had been in conflict with the Kingdom of Great Britain for over a year in the American Revolutionary War. However, on the 2nd of July the same year, the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence through a vote without opposition. This resolution had been proposed in June by Virginian Richard Henry Lee. The Lee Resolution, with the backing of John Adams, was approved on July 2nd, 1776.

After the approval, Congress focused on creating the Declaration of Independence. This was essentially a statement formally declaring independence of the country and explaining its decision to be free from the British Empire. The declaration had already been drafted prior to the actual independence and was prepared by a committee of five: Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the statement, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. On the fourth of July, the final version of the Declaration of Independence was approved. Hence, the federal holiday is celebrated on the Fourth as opposed to the second of July.

Observance

Independence Day was commemorated in 1777 for the first time. The celebration was honored in different ways around the independent states. Rhode Island memorialized the occasion with a formal ceremony in Bristol; 13 gunshot salutes in the morning and 13 gunshots at night. In Philadelphia, the occasion was celebrated much like we do today: parades, speeches, music, prayers and the thirteen gunshot saloon.

In 1781, the Fourth of July was first “officially” recognized as a state celebration by the Massachusetts General Court. Almost 100 years later in 1870, Independence Day was made a holiday for federal employees, albeit unpaid. It was not until 1938 that the Congress declared the Fourth of July a paid federal holiday. Today, the Independence Day is celebrated by the colors of the American flag and extravagant outdoor events such as parades, picnics and barbecues, to honor those who fought for our freedom.

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