History of Independence Day (Fourth of July)
Independence Day is a celebration of political freedom and everything that makes America distinctive and unique. America was founded on the principles of equality, liberty and justice. The Declaration of Independence states that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." When the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, the ideals of a self-governing nation became a reality. Because of a single document and the brave delegates who signed it, America has developed into an entity like no other.
History of the Declaration of Independence
In the colonies the Second Continental Congress was in office from 1775 to 1788. At the first meeting in May of 1775, King George III had not yet responded to a petition sent by the First Continental Congress requesting solutions for grievances. In turn the Congress gradually began taking on the responsibilities of a national government. It established a continental currency, the Continental Army and a post office for the "United Colonies."
In May of 1776 the Continental Congress learned that the King had hired German mercenaries to fight in America, and Americans began to believe that the King was treating the colonies as a foreign entity. Congress started to cut the colonies’ ties with Britain by allowing colonists to arm their vessels and sail against enemies and by opening ports to commerce with other nations.
Colonists were beginning to believe that independence was an inevitable outcome. Richard Henry Lee echoed the thoughts of many American colonists in his resolution to the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776.
"These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance from the British crown, and that all political connection between America and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved…"
This cry for independence was read in the Pennsylvania State house, which would later become Independence Hall. Seven colonies voted for the resolution, and five colonies voted against it, instead hoping to reconcile with Britain. New York abstained from voting. Congress appointed a committee to draft the colonies’ case for independence, and recessed for several weeks. The committee was comprised of John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert R. Livingston (New York) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia).
At the request of the committee, Jefferson drafted the first version of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin and Adams made some changes and corrections, and the new version was submitted to Congress. On July 2, 1776, the Lee Resolution was adopted by 12 colonies (with New York not voting). Congress then began to consider the Declaration and make alterations. It was officially adopted on July 4 at Independence Hall.
The Declaration was then printed by John Dunlap and sent to members of Congress, commanders of Continental troops, and various conventions, assemblies and committees. Twenty-four copies, known as "the Dunlap Broadside" are known to still exist. The Declaration was engrossed and signing began in August of 1776. John Hancock, President of the Congress, signed first, followed by other delegates in order of geographic location, from north to south. The July 19 order of Congress requested the engrossed Declaration "be signed by every member of Congress." Several delegates did not sign, including John Dickinson, who supported reconciliation with Britain, and Robert R. Livingston, who believed the Declaration to be premature.
In January copies of the signed Declaration were printed by Mary Katherine Goddard and sent to the states. People destroyed symbols and emblems of King Richard III including the equestrian statue in New York City. It is rumored that metal pieces from the statue were used to make bullets. Throughout the colonies the king’s picture and royal arms were ceremoniously burned.
The first Independence Day celebration took place in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. Ironically the ceremony included burning bonfires and the ringing of bells, two traditional aspects of King George III’s birthday celebrations. On that day 13 decorated ships, representing the 13 states of the union, fired cannons, and a dinner was prepared for Congress followed by toasts. At night an exhibition of fireworks lit up the sky.
Today Independence Day is a Federal holiday with pay for employees of the United States and the District of Columbia. People celebrate by flying the American flag, attending the annual Independence Day parade in Washington D.C., enjoying picnics and barbecues, and watching fireworks displays.
John Adams saw Independence Day as "the great anniversary festival." He thought it should 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."
Chronology of Events
|June 7, 1776||In Philadelphia Congress receives Richard Henry Lee’s resolution urging Congress to declare independence.|
|June 11, 1776||A committee comprising of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston is appointed to draft a declaration of independence. The American army retreats from Canada to Lake Champlain.|
|June 12-27, 1776||Jefferson drafts a declaration at the request of the committee. His "fair" copy or "original Rough draught" is reviewed by the committee. A fragment of Jefferson’s draft and his clean copy are in the Library of Congress manuscript collections.|
|June 28, 1776||The committee’s draft of the Declaration of Independence is read in Congress.|
|July 1-4, 1776||Congress debates and revises the Declaration.|
|July 2, 1776||As the British fleet and army arrive in New York, Congress declares independence.|
|July 4, 1776||The Declaration of Independence is adopted by Congress. John Dunlap printed copies of the declaration, which were later deemed "Dunlap Broadsides." Twenty-four copies are known to exist. The Library of Congress holds Washington’s personal copy and another original copy.|
|July 5, 1776||President of Continental Congress, John Hancock, dispatches "Dunlap’s Broadsides" to the New Jersey and Delaware legislatures.|
|July 6, 1776||The Pennsylvania Evening Post is the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence.|
|July 8, 1776||The Declaration of Independence is read publicly for the first time in Philadelphia.|
|July 9, 1776||At the order of Washington, the Declaration is read before the American army in New York.|
|July 19, 1776||Congress orders the Declaration to be officially inscribed or engrossed and signed by members.|
|Aug. 2, 1776||Delegates begin signing engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence.|
|Jan. 18, 1777||In Baltimore, Maryland, Congress orders signed copies of the Declaration printed by Mary Katherine Goddard be sent to the states.|
|June 28, 1870||Congress established Independence Day has an unpaid holiday for federal employees and the District of Columbia.|
|June 29, 1938||Independence Day was legislated a Federal holiday with pay for its employees.|
|Jan. 14, 1941||The 1938 law was changed, designating Independence Day a paid Federal holiday in the District of Columbia.|
|Feb. 3, 1998||Congress designated the 21 days between Flag Day and Independence Day as “Honor America Days.”|
"Declaration of Independence: A History"National Archives 2007.
"Federal Legislation Establishing the Fourth of July Holiday" American University 2007.
"The Invention of the Fourth of July" History Now 2005.
"U.S. Independence Day a Civic and Social Event" USINFO.STATE.GOV 2007.
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