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The History of the 4th of July

On This Date: 4th of July History

Independence Day is one of the most important holidays in United States history. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress announced the creation of the Declaration of Independence, formally marking the breakaway from the British Empire.

There was a celebration in Philadelphia, which the Library of Congress notes was described in a letter from John Adams. But this 4th of July celebration was a local event only. Such observances wouldn’t go national until after the War of 1812.

According to the Library of Congress, “By the 1870s, the Fourth of July was the most important secular holiday on the calendar,” with Congress passing a law to formally observe it as American Independence Day. That was effective as of June 28, 1870. Since then, the Fourth of July has come to be known as one of the highlights of the summer season.

Celebrating Independence Day in the Beginning

Since then many people across the U.S. have celebrated in their own way. In 1778, the soon-to-be President George Washington issued double rations of rum to soldiers on the anniversary of Independence Day. Massachusetts was the first state to adopt Independence Day as an official state holiday in 1781, months before winning the Battle of Yorktown.

Additionally, even though there were no fireworks on the day of the signing, there were one year later. This was about six years before Americans knew they would win the war and become officially independent.

Early versions of the 4th of July in the 20th century include this observation published by the Library of Congress. These are the words of a 96-year-old American from South Carolina in 1938, talking about a 4th of July gathering from his childhood.

“The military companies of infantry would assemble here from the surrounding counties, making up a brigade. A drill and inspection were had, and a dress parade followed. There was an old cannon mounted on the field…A great barbecue and picnic dinner would be served; candidates for military, state, and national offices would speak…”

On This Date: July 4

In the 246 years since the signing, many events have occurred on this specific date.

United States Military Academy at West Point

In 1802 the United States Military Academy at West Point officially opened its doors. The Military academy was originally poised as a training establishment for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. It was not officially given its title until March 16, 1802, when Congress passed an act naming it such.

Louisiana Purchase

Just a year later, in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson announced the Louisiana Purchase to the American people. For just 15 million dollars, the U.S. officially purchased what we now call the Midwest from France.

Presidential Deaths

50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other. On July 4th, 1826, Thomas Jefferson died of Uremia in Monticello, Virginia while John Adams died in Quincy, Massachusetts of heart failure, they were 564 miles apart.

Confederate Surrender at Vicksburg

The Confederate Army surrendered in Vicksburg in 1863 on July 4th. The Confederate army still fought for two years after this campaign but it was one of the most successful victories for the Union. Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate the 4th of July for 81 years after this loss.

Statue of Liberty Gifted

Later in the century, France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884. The statue was dedicated in Paris as a commemoration of the friendship between the two countries and symbolizes the liberty and freedom that the U.S. provides. Lady Liberty was a beautiful sight and a symbol of hope for over 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

Adoption of 50-Star American Flag

In recent history, the 50-star American flag that we know and fly today was adopted by President Eisenhower in 1960. The flag was originally designed by a 16-year-old Robert G. Heft for a school project. He made the flag out of $2.87 worth of fabric.

He only received a B minus as a grade from his teacher. He was not the only student to submit the design that we love today to the President, but he was the only one who physically made the flag. After selecting his design, his teacher changed the grade to an A.





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