Independence Day

In the United States, Independence Day (commonly known as the Fourth of July) is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, picnics, baseball games, and various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States, but is often also viewed as simply a summer festival, apart from its patriotic overtones.

Why the fourth?

Though the Fourth of July is iconic to Americans, some claim the date itself is somewhat arbitrary. New Englanders had been fighting Britain since April 1775. The first motion in the Continental Congress for independence was made on June 4, 1776. After hard debate, the Congress voted unanimously, but secretly, for independence from Great Britain on July 2 (the Lee Resolution) and appointed Thomas Jefferson to write a draft. The Congress reworked the draft until a little after eleven o’clock, July 4, when twelve colonies voted for adoption (New York courteously abstained from both votes) and released a copy to the printers signed only by John Hancock, President of the Congress, and Secretary Charles Thomson. Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration with public readings and bonfires on July 8. Not until August 2 would a fair printing be signed by the members of the Congress, but even that was kept secret to protect the members from possible British reprisals.

John Adams, credited by Thomas Jefferson as the unofficial, tireless whip of the independence-minded, wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776:
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.

Modern readers commonly assume that by "illuminations", Adams meant fireworks. Actually, he referred to the eighteenth century custom of marking a public celebration by encouraging householders to place a lighted candle in every window. In that streetlamp era, the effect was dramatic. Fireworks did not enter Fourth of July celebrations until late in the nineteenth century, mostly because they are very expensive. Early twentieth century Americans celebrated by firing guns into the air. Towns that possessed a cannon would fire it, and where the militia paraded, they would fire salutes.

Adams was off by two days, however. Certainly, the vote on July 2 was the decisive act. But July 4 is the date that Jefferson's stirring prose, as edited by the Congress, was officially adopted and was the first day Philadelphians heard any concrete news of independence from the Continental Congress, as opposed to rumors in the street about secret votes.

Observance

In 1778, thirteen guns were fired, once at morning and again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner a modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.
In 1778, General George Washington marked the Fourth of July with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. Across the Atlantic Ocean, ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France.
In 1779, July 4 fell on a Sunday. The holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5.
In 1781, Massachusetts was the first legislature to recognize the Fourth of July.
In 1783, Moravians in Salem, North Carolina, held the first celebration of the Fourth of July in the country with a challenging music program assembled by Johann Friedrich Peter. This work was titled "The Psalm of Joy".
In 1791 was the first recorded use of the name "Independence Day".
In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
In 1941, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday. The residents of Vicksburg, Mississippi, celebrated the Fourth of July for the first time since July 4, 1863, when the Siege of Vicksburg ended with a Union victory during the American Civil War.

Customs

Independence Day, the only holiday that celebrates the United States, is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. Similar to other summer-themed events, Fourth of July celebrations often take place outdoors. Independence Day is a federal holiday, so all non-essential federal institutions (like the postal service and federal courts) are closed on that day. Many politicians make it a point on this day to appear at a public event to praise the nation's heritage, laws, history, society, and people.

Families often celebrate the Fourth of July with a picnic or barbecue, and take advantage of the day off and in some years, long weekend to gather with relatives. Decorations (e.g., streamers, balloons, and clothing) are generally colored red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag. Parades often are in the morning, while fireworks displays occur in the evening at such places as parks, fairgrounds, or town squares.

Independence Day fireworks are often accompanied by patriotic songs such as the national anthem ("The Star-Spangled Banner"), "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "This Land Is Your Land", "Stars and Stripes Forever", and, regionally, "Yankee Doodle" in northeastern states and "Dixie" in southern states. Some of the lyrics recall images of the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. While the "1812 Overture" refers to Russia's defeat of Napoleon, it has been traditionally used by the Boston Pops and broadcast nationwide on PBS, so that many Americans also associate this musical work with the Fourth.

Firework shows are held in many states, and many fireworks are sold for personal use or as an alternative to a public show. Safety concerns have led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed. Illicit traffic transfers many fireworks from less restrictive states.

Most fireworks shows in the United States end in an intense finale, with a volley of fireworks launched in quick succession, sometimes simultaneously. Major displays are held in New York on the East River, in Chicago on Lake Michigan, Boston on the Charles River, and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the annual Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival, Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario host one of the world's largest fireworks displays, over the Detroit River, to celebrate both American Independence Day and Canada Day.

Some people find it very entertaining to tease people from the United Kingdom on July Fourth, as the holiday is slightly anti-British and pro-American.

When the holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, although nearly all corporate businesses and government functions remain open, many people take off an extra day to make for a four-day summer weekend. This is less common when the holiday falls on a Wednesday (as occurred in 2007), although business activity for the week as a whole tends to slow down as some people extend it into a week-long vacation. When the holiday falls on a Sunday, many (but not all) people have off on Monday, in lieu of the holiday. Some businesses close on Friday when the holiday falls on Saturday, although that is not as common (some close on Monday, but that is even less common), during these years many people only receive a two day weekend.

Independence Day is regarded as the birthday of the United States as a free and independent nation. Most Americans simply call it the "Fourth of July," on which date it always falls.

The holiday recalls the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. At that time, the people of the 13 British colonies located along the eastern coast of what is now the United States were involved in a war over what they considered unjust treatment by the king and parliament in Britain. The war began in 1775. As the war continued, the colonists realized that they were fighting not just for better treatment; they were fighting for freedom from England's rule. The Declaration of Independence, signed by leaders from the colonies, stated this clearly, and for the first time in an official document the colonies were referred to as the United States of America.

It is a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks. The flying of the American flag (which also occurs on Memorial Day and other holidays) is widespread. On July 4, 1976, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked by grand festivals across the nation.

Independence Day 2001 commemorated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Sources

1. World-Wide Encyclopedia:
2. USA Government Site:
3. “About the USA”-site:

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