On July 4th, a federal holiday in America, many of us look forward to a day off from work to enjoy time with family and friends. While we often associate the day with barbecues, picnics, parades and fireworks, it is important to remember the historical meaning behind the Fourth of July as we celebrate. How much do you know about the history of July 4th, also known as Independence Day? Take our quiz, before reading the blog, to find out how much you know about America's Independence Day.
Now that you have taken the quiz, learn about the following six things you may not know about the Fourth of July:
1. The Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4: Although the Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, 1776, it was actually signed on August 2, 1776. According to historians, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia originally proposed a declaration of independence from Great Britain in June 1776. On July 2, the Continental Congress voted and approved the resolution. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and then edited by a Committee of Five which included: John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), Robert Livingston (New York) and Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). The Declaration was then edited again by Congress before finally approving it on July 4, 1776. Although John Hancock, Congress President, and Charles Tomson, Congress Secretary, signed earlier copies of the Declaration, the majority of the 56 men signed on August 2, 1776, with a few signing at a later date.
2. The American colonies did not win the American Revolutionary War on July 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence was actually signed one year into the start of the American Revolutionary War. The War officially started on April 19, 1775, and America’s colonies were not truly independent from Britain until September 3, 1783. The War ended when a peace treaty, the Treaty of Paris, was signed, and the British King George III finally recognized the colonies as a new independent nation.
3. The American Revolutionary War was not just between America’s colonies and the British: Other countries joined the colonists in the battle against Britain leading to an international affair. America received help from France, Spain and the Dutch Republic’s navy and troops. By preventing Britain’s interference in America, it would allow them to open up free trade which was economically beneficial to them. Battles in Jamaica, Gibraltar and India, in addition to America, divided Britain’s focus, which eventually led them to abandon their fight for the colonies.
4. Only two signers of the Declaration of Independence became President of the United States: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are the only two signers of the Declaration of Independence to become U.S. Presidents. John Adams became was the second U.S. President from March 4, 1797-March 4, 1801. Thomas Jefferson became the third U.S. President March 4, 1801-March 4, 1809, and was sworn in at the new Capitol in Washington, D.C. Interesting fact: Adams and Jefferson also both died on July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
5. July 4 has been celebrated since 1776: In 1776, the colonists celebrated their independence by having mock funerals for King George III to signify their independence from him and Britain. The first annual observance of July 4th was in 1777 with celebrations including bonfires, parades, concerts, reading of the Declaration of Independence and firing of cannons and muskets. The July 4th firework tradition started in Philadelphia in 1777 with a ship’s cannon firing 13 times in honor of the 13 colonies. That same year, Boston shot off fireworks in the Common area. Other notable U.S. July 4th celebrations include Bristol, Rhode Island and Seward, Nebraska. Bristol had America’s oldest Fourth of July parade and celebration in the U.S., which started in 1785 and is still popular to this day with as many as 200,000+ attendees. Bristol’s nickname is “America’s Most Patriotic Town”. Seward, Nebraska has celebrated July 4th almost every year since 1868 with as many at 40,000+ attendees. In 1979, Congress declared Seward “America’s Official Fourth of July City-Small Town USA”. New York City and Washington, D.C. have also become popular sites for some of the biggest 4th of July celebrations around.
6. July 4 didn’t become a federal holiday until 1870: Massachusetts was the first state to recognize July 4th as an official holiday, but it was almost 100 years before it was declared an unpaid federal holiday by Congress in 1870. Federal employees didn’t start receiving July 4th as a paid holiday until 1941. Independence Day was considered an important patriotic holiday through the early 19th century, but by the late 19th century, the day was considered to be more a day of leisure, food, social gatherings and fireworks.
Now that you know more about the history surrounding the Fourth of July, you can share your knowledge with your friends and family. If you want to learn more about what the Declaration of Independence says, you can read the full text by clicking the button below. The document will also show who signed the Declaration of Independence and the states where they lived.
References: history.com: Fourth of July – Independence Day; history.com: Revolutionary War; smithsonianmag.com: The American Revolution Was Just One Battlefront in a Huge World War; wikipedia.org: American Revolutionary War; wikipedia.org: Independence Day (United States); wikipedia.org: United States Declaration of Independence