We celebrate American Independence Day on July 4 every year. We think of July 4, 1776, as a day born of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation. This wasn't the day that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence from England, however; they did that on July 2. July 4 wasn’t the day the American Revolution began either; that started in April 1775. And it wasn't the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence; that was in June of the same year. It was signed in August 1776 and not delivered to the British until November. So how did we decide to celebrate our Independence on July 4 every year? Put on your finest patriotic clothing and let’s explore Independence Day, its significance, and its purpose.
Did Anything Happen on July 4, 1776?
The Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They'd been working on it for several days after the first draft was submitted on July 2. The signatories finally agreed on the edits and changes two days later. July 4, 1776, became the date that was included in the Declaration of Independence, and the handwritten copy that was signed in August. That version is on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC. July 4, 1776, is also the date printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were given to the citizens of the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, was the date they remembered.
How Did July 4 Become a National Holiday?
During the first decades after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate on any day. The nation and the concept were too new, and other things were happening in the young nation. By the 1790s, a time of bitter partisan conflicts, the Declaration had become controversial. The Democratic-Republicans admired Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration, but the other party, the Federalists, thought it was too pro-French and anti-British, which went against the political climate of that time. By 1817, John Adams complained in a letter that America seemed uninterested in its past. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart, and the new parties considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, and that helped to promote the idea of July 4 as an important date worthy of remembrance. Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on. It wasn’t until 1870, almost a hundred years after the writing of the Declaration of Independence, that Congress declared July 4 to be a national holiday. May we never lose sight of the significance and purpose of Independence Day again.