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4th July - What Does Independence Day Mean?

Updated on July 2, 2016

What is Independence Day?

Independence Day has been a paid federal holiday in the US since 1941. It celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, when the US declared independence from the Great Britain. It is the national day of the country marked with celebrations, parades and fireworks.

4th July Fireworks at the Washington Monument.
4th July Fireworks at the Washington Monument. | Source

United States Today

USA prior to the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence was born out of the American Revolution, the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. The Revolutionary War began in 1775 when the First Continental Congress asked King George to give the colonists the same rights as citizens who lived in Great Britain. King George refused to grant these equal rights and before Congress had a chance to meet and discuss what to do next the war had begun.

History of Independence Day

During the Revolutionary War the number of colonists who were in favor of independence from Great Britain grew. On June 7th 1776 the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion, calling for independence for the colonies from the King and Great Britain. The vote on this resolution was postponed and a five man committee was formed to draft a statement listing justification for separation. On July 2nd of the same year the Continental Congress voted almost unanimously in favor of independence and on July 4th the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted.

Signature of Richard Henry Lee

Signature of Richard Henry Lee the delegate that introduced the motion calling for independence from Great Britain.
Signature of Richard Henry Lee the delegate that introduced the motion calling for independence from Great Britain. | Source

Reasons Colonists Wanted Independence

Britain had just fought in the French and Indian War and needed to raise money to pay debts. They did they by introducing taxes in the colonies.
No representation in Parliament
The colonies felt they should have the right to representation in the British Parliament as they were paying taxes to the British economy.
Non expansion
King George would not allow the colonists to expand westward, even though they had fought in the war. He claimed Britain could not afford defend them and keep them safe.
Taxation on essentials
extreme taxes were placed on essential items such as paper

Acts Introduced by King George

Proclamation Act of 1763
Forbade the Colonies from settling along the Appalachian Mountains.
Stamp Act 1765
Placed taxes on stamps needed for all oficial documents
Townshend Revenue Act 1767
Placed taxes on items such as paper, tea, lead, glass
Quartering Act 1765
Required Colonists to provide homes and supplies to the British Troops.
Tea Act 1773
Required colonists to buy tea from the East India Company

These Acts were felt as unjust by many colonists, particularly when they were not granted representation on Great Britain.

Key Characters in the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson
Principal Author of the Declaration
King George III
King of Great Britain
John Locke
British philosopher who influenced the colonists
John Adams
Was one of the five men appointed to write the declaration
Tom Paine
Wrote influential pamphlets that inspired Patriots to call for independence.
Richard Henry Lee
His motion of June 1776 led to the Declaration
Benjamin Franklin
Pennsylvania delegate and one of the five man appointed to write the declaration

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration.
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration. | Source
Fourth of July in (Philadelphia's) Center Square by John Lewis Krimmd (by 1812)
Fourth of July in (Philadelphia's) Center Square by John Lewis Krimmd (by 1812) | Source

How it was Celebrated

There were many celebrations immediately after the signing of the document. Bonfires, concerts, parades, firing of cannons and public readings of the document. There were also some colonists who held mock funerals of King George. The first annual anniversary celebration occurred in Philadelphia on July 4th 1777. This celebration continued to occur annually and became a day of unity in cities all over the United States.

Celebrations Prior to Independence Day

Before the Declaration of Independence annual celebrations usually marked the Kings birthday. Bell ringing, processions, speeches and bonfires were commonplace.

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Celebrations Today

In 1870 the US congress made July 4th a federal holiday and in 1941 granted a paid holiday for all federal employees. The day itself has became a celebration, with the Flag as the symbol of the holiday. Many people celebrate by holding parties, barbecues and firework displays. It is a time when people get together with family and friends to celebrate. On the day it is customary to see people wearing the colors of the flag and decorating their homes with red, white and blue decorations. Stores sell fireworks and sparklers and many communities hold organized firework displays during the evening.

There are many patriotic songs associated with July 4th including The Star-Spangled Banner God Bless America, America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee and This Land is My Land.

4th July Fireworks Washington DC 2012


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