When armed conflict between American colonists and British soldiers began in 1775, the colonists were simply fighting to secure their rights as subjects of the British crown. By early 1776, however, the irreconcilable differences between Britain and the colonists became clear. In June, the Continental Congress formed a committee whose task was to draft a formal statement of the colonies’ intent to choose their own government. The committee assigned the task of writing that statement to Thomas Jefferson.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution for independence that had been introduced previously by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. In his excitement over the successful vote, future president John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 “…will be the most memorable epocha, in the history of America… It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward, forever more.”
A New Holiday is Created
Although John Adams believed the day of the official vote, July 2, was the appropriate date to celebrate the colonies’ independence, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence two days after the resolution was passed. From that day forward, the Fourth of July has been celebrated as the birth of American independence.
In 1870, the U.S. Congress established the Fourth of July as a federal holiday. Then in 1941, it was expanded to include a paid holiday for all federal employees.
The Fireworks Tradition
Although the Revolutionary War lasted five more years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first official celebration of Independence Day was held in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. After a 13-gun salute to honor each of the 13 colonies, the military band performed, bells were rung, and 13 fireworks rockets were set off in the town square. On that same night in Boston, the Sons of Liberty also set off fireworks in celebration.
After the War of 1812, where the United States once again faced the British in battle, Independence Day celebrations became increasingly common. By this time, fireworks were much more widely available. And they became a more important element of Independence Day celebrations due to safety concerns associated with cannons and gunfire, which were phased out.
Today, many of us attend large fireworks displays in our communities. We don’t know about you, but we believe these beautiful community displays, though held on the “wrong” date, would surely make John Adams proud.
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