This July fourth, Americans celebrate 243 years from when our nation was born. But why commemorate it on the fourth each year when the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776, and the Revolutionary War began in April of 1775? Thomas Jefferson had submitted the first draft in June of 1776 but it wasn’t until July 4, 1776, was when the final wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress.
The Declaration was first publicly read at Independence Square in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776. It wasn’t until August 2, 1776, when the document was signed by fifty men, and months later before the final six signatures were added.
How did America begin celebrating this auspicious day?
On July 3, 1776, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail his vision of how the day should be spent. “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.”
A year later, Congress adjourned and the city celebrated in an orderly manner with bonfires, fireworks, lit candles, thirteen rockets, muskets firing, and ringing bells. Boston also celebrated with fireworks that same year. To commemorate Independence Day, on its anniversaries, General Washington gave double rations of rum to his soldiers. Fireworks became more widely available to communities by 1783 the year the peace was signed with our former adversary.
Over the next three decades, many towns observed the Fourth of July with the reading of the Declaration, concerts, processions, military demonstrations, speeches, picnics, games, and fireworks. But it wasn’t until the end of the War of 1812 with Great Britain that this significant patriotic event became popular throughout the country. The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States would often be played as part of the July fourth celebrations.
In 1941 Independence Day or July 4th became a federal holiday in the United States.
Today, we commemorate Independence Day with social gatherings, parades, barbecues, fireworks and in many of the same ways as they did centuries ago.
What special traditions do you have to honor our great nation?