Why is Independence Day on July 4?

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In a letter written on July 3, 1776, to his wife, Abigail, founding father John Adams of Massachusetts predicted:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Well, he was only off by two days.

While the Second Continental Congress in assembly in Philadelphia actually voted on July 2, 1776, to sever ties with Great Britain, they adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. From that time on, the Fourth became the day commemorated with all the hoopla Adams envisioned.

A few other facts about the momentous day:

• A formal call for independence actually had been issued on June 7, when Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion in the Congress to do so. Twelve of the 13 colonies represented there eventually voted in favor; New York abstained, then later cast a “yea” vote in favor.

• The Declaration of Independence was written by a congressional committee consisting of Robert R. Livingston of New York (who later would administer the presidential oath of office to George Washington), Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Acknowledged as the strongest writer in the group, Jefferson created the majority of the wording.

• In 1781, several months before the key American victory at Yorktown, VA, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.

• The Fourth of July was not designated an official national holiday until 1870, which was 94 years after the fact.

• Held since 1785, the Bristol Fourth of July Parade in Bristol, RI, is the oldest continuous Independence Day celebration in the United States.

 • Since 1868, Seward, NE, has held a celebration on the same town square. In 1979, the little town of 6,000 residents was designated “America’s Official Fourth of July City-Small Town USA” by resolution of Congress.


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