Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution (1775-83). In June 1776, representatives of the 13
colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document draf ted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with
typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.
Early Fourth of July Celebrations
In the pre-Revolutionary years, colonists had held annual celebrations of the king’s birthday, which traditionally included the ringing of bells, bonfires, processions and speech making. By contrast, during the summer of 1776 some colonists celebrated the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for King George III, as a way of symbolizing the end of the monarchy’s hold on America and the triumph of liberty. Festivities including concerts, bonfires, parades and the firing of cannons and muskets usually accompanied the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence,
beginning immediately after its adoption. Philadelphia held the first annual commemoration of independence on July 4, 1777, while Congress was still occupied with the ongoing war. George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence in 1778, and in 1781, several months before the key American victory at Yorktown, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th
an official state holiday.
After the Revolutionary War, Americans c o n t i n u e d t o c commemorate Independence Day every year, in celebrations that allowed the new
nation’s emerging political leaders to address citizens and create a feeling of unity. By the last decade of the 18th century, the two major political parties–Federalists and Democratic-Republicans–that had arisen began holding separate Independence Day celebrations in many large cities.
Learn more at www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th