Americans celebrate the 4th of July with picnics, BBQs, parades, and fireworks, but what does this day really mean? Independence Day marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that the 13 American colonies wished to form their own government and secede from British rule.
Most folks assume the Declaration was signed on July 4, but it was actually completed and unanimously accepted by the representatives of the colonies on July 2. It wasn’t until July 4 that the Continental Congress approved the Declaration (“U.S. Holidays”). This is the date that is printed on the official Declaration and is the day we have come to celebrate.
John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife on July 3, 1776, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations…to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore” (Travers 15). Although the means of celebration have changed throughout the years, the celebration John Adams visualized rings true.
However, for many years after the Declaration was signed, celebrations were spotty, due to overwhelming circumstances and political unrest. After the War of 1812, new political parties revisited Jeffersonian politics and the Declaration began recirculating. The 4th of July became more popular as a celebration and increased after 1826, when two of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 4th of July. Finally, in 1870, Congress declared July 4 to be a national holiday, along with Christmas and others (“Story of the Fourth”).
In addition to fireworks and parades, the citizens of our country celebrate patriotism and freedom by gathering together, waving the flag, and by listening to speeches by civic leaders. In 2009, President Obama incited patriotic pride in the citizens of this country by asking them to “remember how unlikely it was that our American experiment would succeed at all; that a small band of patriots would declare independence from a powerful empire; and that they would form, in the new world, what the old world had not known – a government of, by, and for the people” (“U.S. Independence Day”).
However you celebrate the holiday this year, remember that this celebration has been building for over two hundred years. Fuel your own family traditions with renewed enthusiasm as you remember the brave revolutionaries who had the courage to go their own way and begin a nation that stands on its own two feet and provides us with the freedom that we enjoy today…and evermore.
“The Story of the Fourth of July,” accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/fourth-of-july/.
Travers, Len. Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic. University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
“U.S. Independence Day a Civic and Social Event,” U.S. Embassy, accessed July 13, 2014, http://london.usembassy.gov/society118.html.
“U.S. Holidays,” U.S. Embassy, accessed July 13, 2014. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/pamphlet/2012/05/201205306476.html.