Happy almost Fourth of July everyone indeed! Well, to be historically accurate it is officially called “Independence Day,” as it recognizes and celebrates our nation’s Declaration of Independence. This Declaration publicly stated the desire of our nation to break away from Great Britain and become independent. Great Britain was not amused.
How this document came to be written is very interesting. Meeting in the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall), the Continental Congress appointed a five man committee to draft the document on June 7th, 1776.
They were delegates Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert Livingston of New York. The Declaration was drafted by these men between June 11th and June 28th.
The Declaration of Independence was finished on July 2nd, but wasn’t formally adopted by the Congress until July 4th. Afterward, Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, stating that a great anniversary festival should be held every year, with “Pomp and Parade” and should include “Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other.”
Curiously, John Adams formally refused to attend any celebration held on July 4th because he believed July 2nd should be date selected to honor the birth of our nation. In another historical note, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within several hours of each other on the Fourth of July, in 1826, as our nation celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of our Independence.
Furthermore, it wasn’t until July 8th that the first public reading of the document took place. Much of our new nation had no clue as to what had happened for several weeks or even months, for the newspapers announcing these decisions were carried by coach or by horse. CNN and Fox News weren’t even a sparkle in someone’s eye.
In colonial America, it had become common for the people to hold celebrations honoring the king’s birthday. In the summer of 1776, many Americans chose instead to hold what they called ‘mock funerals’ for King George III in their place. Once again, the British were not amused.
The city of Philadelphia held the first formal Independence celebration on July 4th, 1777, and the following year General George Washington ordered double rations of rum for all of his soldiers to honor the occasion. Massachusetts was the first state to make July 4th an official holiday in 1781.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t until June 24, 1870 that the United States Congress made January 1st, July 4th, and December 25th official Federal Holidays- without pay. In 1941 the United States Congress changed that so these dates became paid holidays for all federal employees.
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