The Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. On July 4, 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson. We celebrate this every Independence Day.
Since 1776, the 4th of July has been celebrated both officially (fireworks, parades and concerts) and unofficially (gatherings at family pools or local barbecues.)
The holiday’s history
According to historians, when early battles for independence started in April 1775, most colonists fought against the idea of breaking with Great Britain. Patriots were considered radical.
As the year went on, popular opinion turned in favor of separation. This was due to fiery speeches, pamphlets like Common Sense by Thomas Paine, and oppressive tactics by the British at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
When delegate Richard Henry Lee from Virginia introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence at what we today know as Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a heated debate ensued.
Congress knew they couldn’t have a civil discussion or vote so they collected five men: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin and Robert R. Livingston. No women or enslaved people participated. Only wealthy, property-owning men ran the government at this time.
These five men drafted a formal statement justifying a break from Great Britain’s empire.
Congress voted in favor of this resolution and supported independence almost unanimously. Two days later, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in a formal measure and sent it out to be read across the land.
A history of celebrations
Before the United States won the Revolutionary War, colonists and patriots took all the ways they usually celebrated King George III’s birthday, such as bell-ringing, gathering around bonfires to sing songs or make speeches, marching and drinking. They turned these into celebrations of liberty. Some started to hold mock funerals for the king as a way to celebrate America’s independence.
When the first readings of the Declaration of Independence started happening in the colonies, places like Boston, Massachusetts or Raleigh, North Carolina, participants would celebrate with firing cannons and muskets. They, too, would hold parades and bonfires as well as concerts and political rallies.
Setting off fireworks for Independence Day became the norm starting in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. A nearby ship in Delaware River fired a 13-gun salute for the original 13 colonies as well.
At the same time, the Sons of Liberty in Massachusetts let loose some fireworks over Boston Common.
Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday after George Washington gave double the usual rum supply to his soldiers in 1778 and 1781.
After the war was won, celebrations continued sporadically in different cities. Often, especially in times of peace, different political parties would hold separate celebrations with speeches and calls to action.
Celebrations slowly spread out from bigger cities to the more rural areas, especially after the War of 1812. This was a war in which the United States once again fought Great Britain.
Our new country wanted victory and people came together in celebration and support.
Ways to celebrate today
These are just a few of the many ways friends and families come together on the 4th of July:
- Barbecues and cookouts.
- Find Pops Goes The Fourth and other concerts on local stations, cable or streaming services.
- Make fun red, white and blue desserts like cupcakes, cookies, and more.
- Get together with the kids and talk about the history of our country.
- Read the Declaration of Independence or watch some famous folks read it.
- Visit your town’s fireworks display. (Click here to protect frightened animals.)
- Check out local listings for parades, festivals and concerts.
- Play 4th of July BINGO with the kids.
- Decorate your house, car or faces with flags and patriotic symbols.
- Watch a fun movie such as Yankee Doodle Dandy, Hamilton, 1776, John Adams and more.
Did you know?
John Adams believed July 2nd was truly Independence Day and turned down invitations for anything held on the 4th of July.
Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a tumultuous relationship throughout the years. They died within moments of each other 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence – on July 4, 1826.
Everyone here at KidzToPros wishes you and your family and safe and happy Independence Day weekend.