When Was the 4th of July Declared a National Holiday?
Every July 4th, Americans celebrate the United States’ birthday, marking the day when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing freedom from British rule. But when was the 4th of July declared a national holiday, and by whom? Read on to learn more about this special day in American history so you can more fully appreciate it when it arrives.
Why do we celebrate the 4th of July?
Americans celebrate the 4th of July, or Independence Day, to commemorate the country’s founding. Many people don’t know that independence from Great Britain was actually declared on July 2, when a group of founding fathers that included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and William Livingston drafted the Declaration of Independence, declaring an end to British rule over the American colonies. The document was actually signed two days later, on July 4, 1776, making independence official.
July 4, 1776, was a pivotal moment in world history, and Americans appreciated its significance as a day of celebration. The first 4th of July celebrations began in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, exactly one year after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The day was marked by fireworks—in the form of a 13-gun salute—as well as parades and revelry. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty also marked the occasion with a fireworks show over Boston Common.
Throughout the early years of the country’s existence, Americans across the country celebrated Independence Day with speeches, parades and toasts proclaiming the greatness of the fledgling nation. The American political system actually developed from these celebrations, as they became a venue for politicians of opposing parties—at the time, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republicans—to express their views during separate Fourth of July celebrations.
The Fourth of July wasn’t always about fireworks and fun, as it became a way for certain groups to promote specific causes that were important to them. During the early 20th century, as the United States became more diverse, celebrations became a venue for groups like abolitionists and women’s rights advocates to gather and gain support for their distinct causes.
In the mid-20th century, Fourth of July celebrations returned to their festive roots. Political causes played less of a role in festivities during this time. Instead, people began using the day as a day of fun with family and friends, and a time to reflect on the freedoms that come with living in America—even freedoms as basic as relaxing with a day off work to mark the holiday.
When was July 4th declared a national holiday?
The 4th of July wasn’t immediately recognized as a national holiday, but by the 1870s, July 4th became an important secular holiday that Americans looked forward to each year. On June 28, 1870, Congress passed a law making Independence Day a federal holiday. Throughout the decades, the Fourth of July became an important day for all Americans. In some cases, it was the biggest event of the year, drawing together communities—even rural ones—to celebrate the country’s birthday.
Fun facts about the Fourth of July
Want to learn more information about the United States’ birthday? Here are some fun facts about the 4th of July that just might surprise family and friends at your next Independence Day cookout:
- Only two founding fathers, Charles Thompson and John Hancock, signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. All other delegates signed the document over the course of the next month.
- The 4th of July also marks a somber occasion in the form of the death of two of our country’s founding fathers. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826, within hours of each other, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
- Fireworks are a Fourth of July tradition dating back to 1777. During those first anniversary celebrations, patriots marked the occasion with parades, shows and “illuminations,” or fireworks.
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