A Brief History of Independence Day

A Brief History of Independence Day

July 02, 2021

Independence Day may seem like a holiday as old as the United States itself, but July 4th has only been an official federal holiday for the last 80 years.1 When and why did Independence Day gain traction as a national holiday? Below, learn more about the history of this patriotic (and at times controversial) holiday. 

Birth of a Nation: July 2 or 4?

The Revolutionary War was one of the most protracted wars on U.S. soil. The initial battles broke out in April 1775, and the Declaration of Independence was signed just over a year later. However, defeated loyalists didn't begin to leave America until the early 1780s.2 In June 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Lee first proposed independence from Great Britain. Congress argued fiercely over this proposal for nearly a month, until a five-man committee composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston drafted a formal statement signifying the divorce from Great Britain. 

The Continental Congress voted for Independence 245 years ago, on July 2, 1776. But it wasn't until two days later when the 13 colonies officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. As a result, there was some dispute, even among the Founding Fathers, whether the country's birth should be celebrated on July 2 or July 4. 

In a twist of fate, 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—on July 4, 1826—both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died. The last words uttered by Adams were "Thomas Jefferson still lives."2 However, Jefferson had passed away just a few hours earlier.

Independence Day Celebrations Gain Steam in the 1800s and 1900s 

Just five years after the first Independence Day, in 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4 a state holiday. Other states quickly followed, seizing on the opportunity to have town-wide picnics, fireworks, and other summertime celebrations in honor of the country's independence. In 1814, 35-year-old lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner; though this song wasn't made the official national anthem until 1931, it was considered one of the country's most patriotic (and tough to sing) songs long before that.3

Celebrating Independence Day in 2021

This year, Independence Day falls on Sunday, July 4. However, the federal holiday is observed the next day, Monday, July 5. Federal buildings, the post office, and many state offices will be closed, as will some private businesses. For many, Independence Day marks the last great summer hurrah (and the last opportunity for a sun-spangled three-day weekend), with Labor Day in September widely signifying the end of summer.



3 https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thomas-jefferson-and-john-adams-die




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