Quick History: The Background of the Fourth of July
The United States celebrates Independence Day every July 4th as the nation’s birthday. The holiday more accurately represents the date in 1776 when the 13 “United Colonies” declared freedom from the British Empire by adopting the Declaration of Independence. The colonists went on to defeat Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, which led to the formation of a new independent nation. Here are some important facts on 4th of July history.
Early American Timeline
- May 15, 1776 – Virginia Convention approves a resolution to declare independence
- June 7, 1776 – The Resolution of Independence, also known as the Lee Resolution, is proposed by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia
- June 11, 1776 – Colonists meet in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence
- July 2, 1776 – The Continental Congress votes for independence
- July 4, 1776 – The Continental Congress adopts the final version of the Declaration after changes are made to Thomas Jefferson’s original draft
- July 8, 1776 – Ringing of bells at Independence Square in Philadelphia marks the first public readings of the Declaration
- August 2, 1776 – Final signatures of the Declaration are completed
- November 15, 1777 – Congress ratifies the Articles of Confederation
- March 1, 1781 – Final ratification of Articles of Confederation by all states
Toward a New Nation
The writers of the Declaration were known as the “Committee of Five,” which, besides Jefferson, included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. The Declaration of Independence included a list of grievances that the colonies had toward Britain. One of the main complaints was taxation without representation.
The American Revolutionary War began in 1775 and France began aiding Americans in 1777. Other American allies included Spain and the Dutch Republic. The war lasted on American soil through 1781. The naval battle ended on September 3, 1783, when King George III of Britain signed the Treaty of Paris.
The United States finalized the Constitution on September 8, 1787. In 1789, George Washington was elected the nation’s first president. By 1790, all 13 states had ratified the Constitution. Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1826. Another Founding Father, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831.
Philadelphia celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 1777. After that, the celebrations spread from town to town every July 4th, but it wasn’t until after 1812 that it became widespread. It wasn’t until 1870 when Congress established July 4th as an official national holiday, called “Independence Day.” Congress then reaffirmed it as a paid holiday for federal workers in 1938.
Celebrations often include fireworks and outdoor music events. “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem in 1931, although the lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key and the melody was based on an earlier British song called “Anacreon in Heaven” by John Stafford Smith. Another popular song associated with 4th of July history is “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” written in 1896 by John Philip Sousa.