The “Real” Story Behind the 4th of July
The infamous 4th of July or Independence Day, is perhaps the proudest day of the year for Americans. The 4th, as we like to refer to it, has been recognized as a federal holiday in the United States since 1938.
The tradition of Independence Day celebrations dates back to the 18th century commemorating the birth of the American Revolution on July 2, 1776.
That’s right, I said July 2nd. It was on July 2, 1776 that the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later delegates from the thirteen colonies adopted the historic document written by Thomas Jefferson, known as the Declaration of Independence.
THE BIRTH OF INDEPENDENCE DAY – JULY 2ND!
From the initial battles in 1775 of the so called “Revolutionary War” few early Americans known as colonists wanted complete independence from England. It wasn’t for another two years that majority of Americans sought to be free, primarily due to Great Britain’s continued lack of respect for the colonies.
It was on June 7, 1776 when the Continental Congress gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, first introduced a “motion” calling for the colonies’ independence.
Congress couldn’t make up its mind, so it formed a Committee of Five which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and Robert R. Livingston to write a formal statement to justify the break with Great Britain. Not a bad starting five!
On July 2, 1776, Congress voted in favor the resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote due to an abstention from the New York delegate. However, he later changed his vote to the affirmative.
John Adams proudly wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epoch, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”.
It was two days later, on July 4th, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The great John Adams hated that the 4th was celebrated as Independence Day, firmly believing that July 2nd was the true, correct date. In the following years up to his death, he would turn down invitations to appear at 4th of July events in protest.
On an interesting note, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. That fact has always blown me away. By the way, if you haven’t seen the TV miniseries, “John Adams”, check it out, it’s great!
Early celebrations included concerts, bonfires, parades and of course the obligatory firing of cannons and muskets along with public readings of the Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia held the first annual commemoration of Independence Day on July 4, 1777. We were still at war then, and George Washington ordered double rations of rum to all his soldiers in his ranks to honor the anniversary of independence in 1778.
In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday in 1870. It was not until 1938 that provision was expanded to allow it to be a paid holiday to all federal employees.
As the 4th of July approaches, hug your parents, your kids and especially a veteran. Take a moment to reflect at the enormous sacrifices that were made to create and sustain this great nation of ours. Above all, be proud to be an American!