“Thus may the 4th of July,
that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated
through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age
till time shall be no more. Amen and Amen.” Virginia
Gazette on July 18th, 1777
Schoolchildren in America learn the basic history of the
events surrounding the Fourth of July, but the details of this
monumental occasion in American history somehow fall through
Although July 4th is celebrated as America’s official split
from Britain’s rule and the beginning of the American
Revolution, the actual series of events show that the process
took far longer than a single day.
without representation! That was the battle cry of the 13 colonies in
America who were forced to pay taxes to England’s King George III with
no representation in Parliament. As dissatisfaction grew, British troops
were sent in to quell any signs of rebellion, and repeated attempts by the
colonists to resolve the crisis without war proved fruitless.
The original resolution was
introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on June 7, 1776,
and called for the Continental Congress to declare the United
States free from British rule.
11, 1776, the colonies’ Second Continental Congress, meeting in
Philadelphia, formed a committee with the express purpose of drafting a
document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The
committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger
Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. The document was crafted by Jefferson,
who was considered the strongest and most eloquent writer (nevertheless, a
total of 86 changes were made to his draft!) The final version, the document that we know as the Declaration of Independence
officially adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, although the resolution
that led to the writing of the Declaration was actually
approved two days earlier.
following day, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed
and, on July 6, The Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper
to print the extraordinary document.
July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration were held in
Philadelphia’s Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band
All of this had occurred with some of the delegates to the
Congress not even present; New York, for example, did not even
vote on the resolution until July 9th. (Did you know
that that not a single signature
was appended to the Declaration on July 4th. While most of the
fifty-six names were in place by early August, one signer,
Thomas McKean, did not actually sign the Declaration until
One year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence
Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and
The custom eventually spread to other towns both large and
small, where the day was marked with processions, oratory, picnics,
contests, games, military displays and fireworks. Observations throughout
the nation became even more common at the end of the War of 1812 with
On June 24, 1826, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Roger
C. Weightman, declining an invitation to come to Washington, D.C., to help
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was
the last letter, Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote. In it,
Jefferson says of the document:
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of
arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and
security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted,
restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom
of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ...
For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our
recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
In 1941, Congress
declared July 4 a legal Federal holiday. Today, communities across the
nation mark this major midsummer holiday with parades, fireworks, picnics
and the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" and marches by
John Philip Sousa.
Fourth of July customs have not changed since our earliest celebrations.
But some communities across the nation have developed their own special
Celebrants in Seward, Alaska, take part in a six-mile foot
race to the top of Mount Marathon and back. Further north in Kotzebue,
Alaska, traditional Inuit contests are held.
The citizens of Lititz,
Pennsylvania have spent their winters since 1818 making thousands of
candles so that the children of the town can light them during a special
"Festival of Candles" the night of July 4.
And, on the morning
of July 4, the community of Tecumseh, Nebraska, raises more than 200 flags
around the courthouse as a way of remembering those who have served in our
country’s armed forces. Each flagpole bears the name of a man or woman
from Tecumseh who has served in the United States military.
On July 4,
1976 major celebrations throughout the country marked America’s 200th
birthday. In Washington, D.C., 33 tons of fireworks were exploded in the
sky above the Washington Monument, along with Laser beams that spelled out
" 1776-1976, Happy Birthday, USA." In New York, a succession of
tall sailing ships from all over the world sailed up the Hudson River.