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History Behind The 4th Of July

Why Do We Celebrate the 4th of July? Here’s What All the Fireworks Are About

Brush up on Independence Day facts and history.

preview for 13 Things You Never Knew About Independence Day

The 4th of July is almost here. Cue the fireworks, parades, American flags displayed proudly on front porches, fun summer activities, and, of course, delicious 4th of July recipes (don’t forget the hot dogs and patriotic desserts). But why do we celebrate the 4th of July?

The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, is a federal holiday that celebrates America’s independence from the British Empire. Over the past nearly 250 years, it has morphed into a more general display of patriotism and pride. However, the anniversary date was not so clear cut in 1776—in fact, one of the Founding Father’s predicted July 2nd would be the big day.

Read on to discover why we celebrate Independence Day, what actually happened (and did not happen) on July 4, 1776, and more fun 4th of July facts and history.

Why Do We Celebrate 4th of July?

fireworks light up the night sky on 4th of july in washington dc

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July 4th is significant because it is the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, a governing body comprising delegates from the 13 American colonies. The document officially declared the United States of America’s independence from British rule.

The Declaration’s adoption came nearly a month after Virginia Delegate Richard Henry Lee proposed the colonies seek independence. The Declaration of Independence we know and love was largely written by Thomas Jefferson. Other members of the Continental Congress suggested edits and approved the famous final copy.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

american declaration of independence adopted on july 4, 1776, why we celebrate independence day

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What Actually Happened on July 4, 1776?

Contrary to popular belief, July 2, 1776, not the fourth, was the day that the delegates voted in favor of seeking independence. Two days later on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, with some revisions, according to the National Archives. However, only two delegates, Charles Thompson and John Hancock, secretary and president, respectively, signed the document on July 4.

Finally, on August 2, 1776, delegates began signing the document most Americans think of today when they envision the Declaration of Independence—the one inscribed on parchment paper bearing 56 delegate signatures. Hancock went first, writing in a bold, large script and giving rise to the idiom “to put your John Hancock on ________,” meaning to sign something.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

John Adams anticipated the celebration of independence would occur on July 2nd every year, marking the anniversary of the vote for independence (as opposed to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence). In a letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams theorized the celebration would include fireworks, bonfires, parades, and games, many of which are popular 4th of July activities today.

Early 4th of July Celebrations

The first 4th of July celebrations consisted of mock funerals for King George III, who was king of England at the time. The following year celebrations became more elaborate but not nearly as commonplace as today’s festivities.

With the Revolutionary War still underway, George Washington celebrated the first anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by providing extra rum to the Revolutionary soldiers.

Ever wonder why we celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks? The tradition dates all the way back to 1777 at Independence Day festivities in Boston and Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, cannons lit up the sky, firing 13 times to represent the 13 original colonies. That same night, the Sons of Liberty put on a fireworks show in Boston.

Modern 4th of July Celebrations

bbq hotdog with mustard, ketchup, relish and onions with potato salad and baked beans at a 4th of july picnic  photographed on hasselblad h3d2 39mb camera

Independence Day celebrations grew in popularity after the War of 1812. Due to the rising popularity of the holiday, it was designated a federal holiday in 1870. Eventually, in 1941, the 4th of July was promoted to a paid federal holiday, which is still true today (though you can still find some stores and restaurants open that day).

As the holiday became more popular, the celebrations became more elaborate and commonplace and new traditions began to form.

Fun Fact: Three U.S. Presidents have died on July 4th: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, and James Monroe in 1831.

Fireworks eventually replaced the cannons and guns used in early celebrations due to safety concerns. However, today fireworks raise similar safety concerns. In 2019 and estimated 10,000 people landed in the emergency room due to firework-related accidents. In spite of this fact, Americans still spend an estimated $1.5 billion on fireworks for 4th of July celebrations every year.

The pyrotechnics industry isn’t the only one benefitting from the festivities. An estimated 150 million hot dogs are consumed every year on Independence Day. 4th of July hot dog eating contests are held all over the country. Watermelon, popsicles, and ice cream also bring in the big bucks around the 4th of July.

These new activities may not be traditional, but what’s more American than a holiday centered around food, fun, and explosives?


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