July 4: The Birth of American Independence (NE)

 
07/04/2020

Click for bid opportunitiesBy History Channel

Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4 has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the eighteenth century and the American Revolution (1775 to 1783).
 
In June of 1776, representatives of the thirteen colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.
 
From 1776 until the present day, July Fourth 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.

Declaration of IndependenceThe Birth of American Independence
 
When the initial battles in the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were considered radical. By the middle of the following year, however, many more colonists had come to favor independence, thanks to growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments such as those expressed in Thomas Paine’s bestselling pamphlet Common Sense, published in early 1776.
 
On June 7, when the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (later called Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution, but appointed a five-man committee—including Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York—to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.
 
On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote (the New York delegation abstained, but later voted affirmatively). On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade . . . Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” On July 4, the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had been written largely by Jefferson. Though the vote for actual independence took place on July 2, from then on the Fourth became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.

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 speechmaking. 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 4 an official state holiday.

After the Revolutionary War, Americans continued to 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 eighteenth century, the two major political parties—Federalists and Democratic-Republicans—that had arisen began holding separate Independence Day celebrations in many large cities.
 
July 4 becomes a National Holiday
 
The tradition of patriotic celebration became even more widespread after the War of 1812, in which the United States again faced Great Britain. In 1870, the US Congress made July 4 a federal holiday; in 1941, the provision was expanded to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees. Over the years, the political importance of the holiday would decline, but Independence Day remained an important national holiday and a symbol of patriotism.

Falling in mid-summer, the Fourth of July has since the late nineteenth century become a major focus of leisure activities and a common occasion for family get-togethers, often involving fireworks and outdoor barbecues. The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag, and a common musical accompaniment is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States.



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