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American Independence Day - a brief history of


The Independence Day of the USA celebrates the country. While the origins of the day come from the revolt of a set of colonies away from their ruling state, Great Britain, there is no sense of hate or dislike involved.

The Independence Day celebrations are more a tribute to the nation as a whole rather than glorifying in revolution. As John Adams put it in a letter that he wrote to his wife on July 3rd, 1776:

'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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.'

He got the date wrong because the vote of the Continental Congress on July 2nd was very important, but it was with the July 4th vote that the text of the Declaration was adopted by 9 out of the 13 colony representatives.

But whatever the date, the text of John Adams letter has been taken to the hearts of Americans and that is how the Fourth of July is celebrated: with parades, games, bonfires and, especially, fireworks.

Early celebrations

In Philadelphia in 1777, there were parades, troop reviews, 13-gun salutes (one for each colony), and an official dinner for the Continental Congress with toasts, speeches, music, and fireworks.
General George Washington marked the 4th July 1778 with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute.

While John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, the ambassadors for the colonies in France, held a dinner in Paris for their compatriots.

1791 was the first year that the name "Independence Day" is first seen recorded.

U.S. Congress made Independence Day a holiday, albeit unpaid, for federal employees in 1870 but it wasn’t until 1941 that it was made a federal holiday.

Modern celebrations

On the Fourth of July, being the height of summer throughout the USA, picnics and barbeques are the order of the day.

Where Thanksgiving Day is the celebration of family, the Fourth of July is the celebration of the nation. Thanksgiving takes place indoors while the Fourth of July is more of an outdoor event. Usually culminating in fireworks as it has done since 1777.         

Although not primarily a big family event, the Fourth of July is still an opportunity to get the family and friends together and the barbeques or picnics generally involve hamburgers and hot dogs and grilled corn on the cob, and other foods that are easy to prepare for large numbers of people.

The evening firework displays will often be accompanied by partiotic songs and music such as "Stars and Stripes Forever", "God Bless America", "My Country, Tis of Thee", and "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Common misconceptions

There are common misunderstandings about Independence Day and here are a few in all their glory, with corrections:

The wrong date?
The delegates to the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2nd, 1776, not on July 4th.

However the vote to accept the Declaration took place on July 4th, which is why it carries that date.

The painting
The painting, by John Trumbull, often called the Signing of the Declaration – isn’t. In fact it is the five-man committee who drafted the wording of the Declaration presenting it to the Continental Congress. The event depicted never actually took place.

The Liberty Bell
The idea that the Liberty Bell was rung to celebrate independence is unfortunately not true. This story comes from a fiction work called Legends of the American Revolution by George Lippard. At that time the bell tower was derelict, so the bell could not have been rung and therefore the bell did not get its crack on July 8th.

In fact the bell first cracked in March 1753 during a test ringing, it was re-cast by Pass & Stow, but the tone was very poor. It was re-cast again. It was taken down in 1778 and got the new crack much later, though there’s no record of exactly when.

It was not called the "Liberty Bell" until it was named that in an anti-slavery poem by William Lloyd Garrison.


Last update: 02.01.2019