People all over the United States celebrate our country’s “birthday” each year on the Fourth of July. This national holiday is called Independence Day because it commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776. The declaration informed the world that the colonies, fighting against the tyranny of Great Britain, had officially proclaimed themselves to be “free and independent states.”
At the time, America consisted of thirteen colonies under the rule of England’s King George III. The colonists complained about the unfair taxes they had to pay to England. They considered it “taxation without representation,” because the colonies had no representatives in the English Parliament and therefore they had no say in anything.
The famous Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773, and more tea was dumped into the harbor on March 7, 1774. Later that year, delegates from each of the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia and formed the First Continental Congress. Although the delegates were unhappy with England, they were not yet ready to declare war.
Meanwhile, King George sent over extra troops just in case there was a rebellion. In April of 1775, British troops advanced on Concord, Massachusetts. Riders galloping on horses though the late night streets shouted, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” The battle of Concord and its “shot heard ’round the world” marked the unofficial start of the Revolution.
In May of 1775, the colonies sent delegates to a Second Continental Congress. For about a year they tried to work out their differences with England, again without formally declaring war. However, by June of 1776 their efforts had become hopeless. A committee was then formed to compose an official Declaration of Independence and to draw up war plans. They appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence. After various changes, the Declaration was approved on July 2 and adopted on July 4, 1776. Of the thirteen colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration. Two of the colonies (Pennsylvania and South Carolina) voted against it. Delaware was undecided, and New York abstained. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration.
Copies of the Declaration were distributed the following day. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration on July 6, 1776. The Declaration’s first public reading was on July 8 in Philadelphia’s Independence Square, amid cheering crowds and ringing bells.
The first Fourth of July commemoration was held in 1777 while America’s Revolutionary War was still being fought. By the early 1800’s, the celebration of America’s birthday with parades, picnics, patriotic speeches, band concerts, and fireworks had become established traditions. The Fourth of July is a unique patriotic holiday. We don’t celebrate our nation’s independence on the nearest convenient Monday. We use the actual historical anniversary – no matter what day of the week it falls on – because that’s when our nation was born.
Please CLICK HERE to download a FREE American History Quiz.