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History of Independence Day

The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4 of each year. While the date was established as a national holiday in 1870, the first celebrations date back to 1776.

History of Independence Day

The Declaration of Independence

In the late 1700s, King George III ruled over the 13 colonies established in North America. The King's tax burden was oppressive and eventually was rejected by the colonists. In 1774, the first Continental Congress met to discuss, debate, and decide how the colonies would respond to the King's use of taxation without representation.

Essentially, the colonists were upset that the King and parliament levied taxes while denying the colonies any representation in parliament. The result of these discussions was the establishment of resolutions and grievances they wanted parliament to address.

In 1775, King George III issued a proclamation condemning such acts and ordered anyone who met, published, or otherwise publically disagree with him would be charged with treason. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, the representative from Virginia, motioned a resolution to declare independence. On June 11, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and two other men formed a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence.

During the following weeks, Jefferson drafted a rough version of the document, which was then read before the Second Continental Congress. The representatives debated and revised the document. On July 2, the Congress declared independence just as the British navy arrived in New York carrying land troops. The Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July.

Multiple copies of the document were printed and distributed on July 5th and it appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on July 6. By July 8th, public readings were being along with band music and the ringing of bells. This is considered the first celebration of Independence Day.

National Holiday

In 1777, Philadelphia celebrated the anniversary of the Declaration with fireworks, military displays, bonfires, and bells. The practice soon spread to other towns, growing in popularity by the end of the War of 1812, when the British finally relinquished any claims within the colonial nation.

In 1826, Washington, D.C., hosted a fiftieth anniversary celebration of Independence Day. In 1870, the U.S. Congress officially established Independence Day as a national holiday and, in 1876, the centennial celebration was held in Philadelphia along with the first official World's Fair in the United States. In 1938, Congress reaffirmed the holiday, adding it as one with full pay for all federal employees.

In 1966, Congress formed the first committees and plans for a generous bicentennial celebration in 1976. Bicentennial quarters bearing the dates 1776 to 1976, as well as two-dollar bills, were minted and printed in honor of the celebration. Elaborate celebrations were held throughout the country, including a visit from England's reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who visited Washington, D.C., with her husband Prince Philip to attend the celebration with President and Mrs. Ford.

The Fourth of July continues to be a nationally celebrated holiday with picnics, parades, fireworks, and barbecues throughout the United States.