Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July or July Fourth, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the National Day of the United States.
During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Great Britain. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Adams’s prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.
Historians have long disputed whether Congress actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, even though Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote that they had signed it on that day. Most historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed.
Coincidentally, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. Although not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but another Founding Father who became a President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831, thus becoming the third President in a row who died on the holiday. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only U.S. President to have been born on Independence Day.
Independence Day is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. Similar to other summer-themed events, Independence Day celebrations often take place outdoors. Independence Day is a federal holiday, so all non-essential federal institutions (like the postal service and federal courts) are closed on that day. Many politicians make it a point on this day to appear at a public event to praise the nation’s heritage, laws, history, society, and people.
Families often celebrate Independence Day by hosting or attending a picnic or barbecue and take advantage of the day off and, in some years, long weekend to gather with relatives. Decorations (e.g., streamers, balloons, and clothing) are generally colored red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag. Parades are often in the morning, while fireworks displays occur in the evening at such places as parks, fairgrounds, or town squares.
The night before the Fourth was once the focal point of celebrations, marked by raucous gatherings often incorporating bonfires as their centerpiece. In New England, towns competed to build towering pyramids, assembled from barrels and casks. They were lit at nightfall, to usher in the celebration. The highest were in Salem, Massachusetts (on Gallows Hill, the famous site of the execution of 13 women and 6 men for witchcraft in 1692 during the Salem witch trials, where the tradition of bonfires in celebration had persisted), composed of as many as forty tiers of barrels; these are the tallest bonfires ever recorded. The custom flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is still practiced in some New England towns.