Why Do We Celebrate 4th of July?
The big, grand facts about America’s Independence Day are pretty widely known. It’s the day we officially declared our independence from Great Britain and turned the nascent armed resistance in the Colonies into a fight for self-governance by a new nation made up of “united states.” But the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence was far more complex than it’s often painted in pictures, with a massive horde of brave delegates standing to sign it all at once in the resplendent chambers of Independence Hall, Philadelphia. America’s birth was a complicated process and in honor of this year’s Independence Day, let’s dive a little deeper and answer the question: why do we celebrate 4th of July?
4th of July History
On July 4th, 1776 the Continental Congress announced that they had formally declared independence from British rule. The Revolutionary War actually began over a year earlier, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. But it wasn’t until 1776 that most people realized that a reconciliation with their mother country would not be possible. So in April of that year, serious discussion began throughout the Colonies regarding how, exactly, to declare their separation. Individual states and Congressional delegations wrote and issued their own documents asserting independence, but a national, unifying document was deemed necessary.
On May 15th the Continental Congress passed a preamble to the eventual declaration. Written by Massachusetts delegate John Adams, it outlined the purpose and reasons the Congress would draft a formal document to assert independence. Based on that, Virginia Delegate Richard Henry Lee presented a resolution asserting that the thirteen Colonies were “free and independent States.” But the document was not considered the official paper separating America from Britain as debate continued with some states (primarily those in the mid-Atlantic region whose economies strongly relied on trade with England) who still hoped to remain British.
Even as the debates raged, the Congress appointed five delegates to draft a declaration:
- Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania
- Thomas Jefferson of Virginia
- Robert R. Livingston of New York
- Roger Sherman of Connecticut
- John Adams
They created a basic outline together and assigned the writing of the document to Jefferson. His declaration was presented to the Congress on June 28th, debated and edited over the next few days, and a second draft agreed upon on July 1st.
A vote taken that day was not unanimous, but the following day the declaration twelve of the thirteen colonies voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence (New York had to abstain as their Provincial Congress had told their delegates to hold on voting until they themselves could debate it). New York would formally vote “yes” a week later, but the Declaration was formally approved on July 2nd and a few more edits were made over the next few days. On July 4th the final draft received approval and was announced to the nation. Though there is some historical debate as to whether or not all the delegates signed it that day, there is no doubt that all did so by August 2nd. Regardless of that formal detail, the United States of America had become independent. On paper, at least. Over six more years of war and hardship lay between Independence Day and the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3rd, 1783. But in her own eyes, America was a nation on July 4th, 1776.
What Does 4th of July Mean?
The 4th of July is, in the simplest sense, the birthday of our country. It was the day we, after long years of struggle and months of debate, the duly elected representatives of the original Thirteen Colonies announced to the world that they had formed a new nation.
4th of July Celebrations
From the start, the 4th of July was widely celebrated across the US. On its very first anniversary, in 1777, ceremonies from Rhode Island to Virginia included 13-gun salutes, fireworks, and plenty of red, white, and blue bunting. In 1778, General George Washington honored the occasion by providing his men with a double ration of rum. It’s widely believed that the very first public, an organized celebration of Independence Day was held by the town of Salem, North Carolina in 1783. Bristol, Rhode Island held the first official parade in 1785. And in 1870, the day became a federal holiday (although it wasn’t a paid federal holiday until 1938).
Many of the traditions we associate with the 4th of July today have always been a part of the celebrations. Fireworks, family gatherings, big barbecues, and bedecking everything and everyone in the colors of the American Flag. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the night prior was also an occasion of major celebrations, typically involving massive bonfires. Many towns in New England would even compete to see which could build the biggest one. And some military installations traditionally include a 50-gun salute in their commemorations, one for each current state in the Union.
4th of July Facts & Trivia
We’ve learned that our audience loves facts and trivia about our nation and its military. So we’ve gathered interesting tidbits about America’s birth for you:
- New York City’s annual fireworks display, sponsored by Macy’s, is the nation’s largest. (Click to Tweet this)
- Only two signers of the Declaration went on to be President of the United States: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Both men also died on the exact same day: July 4th, 1826, 50 years to the day after the Declaration was finalized. (Click to Tweet this)
- On July 3rd, Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail predicting how Independence Day would become a massive and important holiday all across America. He even predicted some of the ways it would be celebrated. But he assumed the hallowed day would be commemorated as the day the delegates ratified the Declaration of Independence: July 2nd. (Click to Tweet this)
- It’s also sometimes claimed that James Monroe was a third signer who not only became president but died on Independence Day. While Monroe was an important Founding Father, 5th US President, and did die on July 4th, 1831, he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. (Click to Tweet this)
- The longest surviving signer was Charles Carroll of Maryland, who passed away on November 14th, 1832. (Click to Tweet this)
- President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4th, 1872. Other famous Americans born on Independence Day include Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804), Rube Goldberg (1883), Neil Simon (1927), Eva Marie Saint (1924), and Post Malone (1995). (Click to Tweet this)
- The phrase “John Hancock” as a reference to one’s signature comes from the particularly large and stylized signature that President of the Continental Congress John Hancock affixed to the Declaration of Independence. (Click to Tweet this)
- According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, American’s eat enough hot dogs on Independence Day that, if lined up, they would cover the distance from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, California five times. (Click to Tweet this)
Looking for more ways to test your 4th of July knowledge? Check out these facts and history tidbits which are so weird – but don’t worry they’re definitely not fake news!
Since that hot summer day in Philadelphia, our country has grown and changed in countless ways. But the spirit of liberty that led to the ratification and publication of the Declaration of Independence, one of America’s most hallowed documents, has remained strong and steady. And that’s why we celebrate the 4th of July as the day we, as a people, first agreed that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
From MyBaseGuide’s family to yours we wish you a safe and fun weekend of freedom, family, fireworks, and hotdogs!
Updated: June 15th, 2021