Why Do We Celebrate the 4th of July?

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Americans celebrate the 4th of July as the birth of United States independence. While the 4th of July did not become a federal holiday until 1870, it has been celebrated in some form since 1776.

The Revolutionary War
The reason for celebrating 4th of July begins with the American Revolution. It began on April 19, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. At this time, many colonists were not interested in becoming a separate country from Great Britain. By the next year, the idea of independence became more popular as tensions grew between Great Britain and the colonies. On June 7, 1776, the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia to discuss Richard Henry Lee's motion to become independent from Great Britain. This vote was postponed for several weeks. A five-man committee had been appointed to write a formal document declaring independence. This committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman, with Jefferson as the primary writer.

Adoption of the Declaration of Independence
The Second Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Two days before, on July 2, the Congress almost unanimously voted on Lee's motion for independence, with New York the lone hold-out until later. The Declaration of Independence was not formally signed until August 2, 1776, and was not delivered to Great Britain until November of that year.

Colonial Celebrations
The 4th of July was not celebrated nationwide during the country's early years, but celebrations could be found in several areas. The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence occurred in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, accompanied by music and ringing bells. The city celebrated the first anniversary of the nation's independence on July 4, 1777, by setting off fireworks, ringing bells and lighting bonfires. Boston also celebrated with a fireworks show. In time, this spread throughout the country, with cities and towns holding parades, concerts, picnics and fireworks. Massachusetts made the 4th of July an official state holiday in 1781, the first state to do so.

The holiday became even more widespread and popular during the War of 1812 with Great Britain. Both Adams and Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826, which helped to further cement the 4th as the official date of independence.

National Holiday
Congress established July 4th as the federal holiday known as Independence Day in 1870. In 1941, it became a paid holiday for all federal employees. The political importance of the holiday has changed since 1776, but it has remained an important holiday and symbol of patriotism in the U.S.

Modern Celebrations
As of 2017, the 4th of July is a major summer holiday for Americans, with many employers giving their workers the day off. Celebrations are held all over and typically include town parades, concerts, fireworks and backyard barbecues. Several cities, including Washington, D.C., Boston and New York City, host large firework displays that can be viewed on television from other parts of the country.