Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day on July 4?

Filed in American Culture by on July 3, 2017 0 Comments
Photo by m01299.

Photo by m01299.

If there’s one certainty on the Fourth of July, it’s that Americans will come together to celebrate it with grilled food, family, and fireworks. Despite these annual traditions, there is a certain level of mystery surrounding the holiday’s origins.

On Independence Day, Americans celebrate the legal separation of the country’s original Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain. The fourth of July was chosen in particular since it has been historically documented as the day the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, formally announcing their decision to separate. This occurred in 1776, during the Revolutionary War.

But technically, Americans could just as well celebrate the country’s independence on July 2.

The second day of July—rather than the fourth—was the actual day America declared its independence from British rule. But after officially voting for separation from Great Britain, it took the Second Continental Congress a full two days of debate and revisions before finally signing the Declaration of Independence.

Even John Adams, one of the five principal authors of the Declaration of Independence, assumed that the country would celebrate its freedom on July 2:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival… It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to 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.”

Despite Adams’ prediction being off by two days, Americans have always celebrated the holiday on  July Fourth. The resolution of independence was approved during a closed session of Congress, in contrast to the highly publicized signing of the Declaration of Independence two days later.

Historians also debate whether members of Congress actually signed the declaration on July 4, although Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all later attested to signing it on that day. Despite the common conception, many historians now believe that the document was in fact signed on August 2, nearly a month after its official adoption.

Even though the dates go back and forth, the celebrations have largely stayed the same. Americans commemorated the very first Fourth of July with an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, speeches, music, parades, and fireworks. The red, white, and blue decorations haven’t changed 241 years later.