Fourth of July History
Fourth of July history begins with a series of defining moments in United States history. Until the late 1770s, most colonial Americans were loyal to King George III in England. However, when King George and his Parliament continued to exert control over colonial affairs and decisions while denying the colonials representation, a rebellion formed.
First and Second Continental Congresses
The first Continental Congress, organized in September 1774, brought together 54 representatives from the various colonial legislatures except Georgia, which was still relatively new. This Congress accomplished two things: the first was a boycott of all British goods in response to the Intolerable Acts, which essentially conscripted heavy taxes without providing the colonists any representation in the decision-making. The second great accomplishment was the call for a second Continental Congress if the boycott was unsuccessful in persuading King George and Parliament to the colonial way of thinking.
After England refused to negotiate and pressed their militaristic foot down harder on the colonials with the Battles of Concord and Lexington, the second Continental Congress convened in 1775 with representatives from all thirteen colonies. They discussed and debated, ultimately appointing a five-man committee of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman to draft the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration was to be a demand, a legal argument, and a promise to not only King George III and his Parliament, but also the colonial legislatures, the Continental Congress, and the colonists themselves. While there are no notes detailing what the five men discussed or how they apportioned their arguments, Jefferson wrote the first draft of the declaration to be presented to the Continental Congress.
On July 2, 1776, the second Continental Congress voted to sever ties with Great Britain. Future President of the United States John Adams declared, "The second day of July will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America."
If they voted to sever ties on July 2, why do Americans celebrate the Fourth of July as the day of independence? Because it took two days for the second Continental Congress approved the wording in the Declaration of Independence.
History of Celebrating Fourth of July
The first Independence Day (Fourth of July Fun Facts) was celebrated in Philadelphia with the ringing of the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall following the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Commemorations of this first celebration continued through the Revolutionary War, including General George Washington providing his solders with a double ration of rum in 1778. In 1781, Massachusetts would officially establish the Fourth of July as a statewide celebration.
In 1801, the White House played host to its first Independence Day party. Many years later, the U.S. Congress voted in 1941 to make July 4 a paid federal holiday that continues to be celebrated throughout the nation every summer.
Resources for Celebrating History
Fourth of July history is the exploration of what is generally acknowledged as America's birthday. For more information, resources, and learning materials check out these great sites:
- Fourth of July History and Related Videos on History.com – Discover multiple video clips that demonstrate how and when Americans began celebrating their independence.
- A Capitol Fourth – History, patriotic celebrations, video clips and more that demonstrate how Americans celebrate their national holiday.
- Just 4 Kids Magazine – The magazine's website features a spread of images, history and more related to July 4.
- Enchanted Learning – Fourth of July crafts and activities for children.
- The Teacher's Corner – Fourth of July lesson plans and activities for teachers.
- Family Fun Magazine – Fourth of July party themes and game ideas for celebrating Independence Day.