What You Should Know About the History of the Fourth of July
Many people think the holiday symbolizes the end of the American Revolution, but that's not the case.
When many of us think of the Fourth of July, images of modern-day fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues come to mind. But how much do you know about the history of the holiday? You probably know that the Fourth of July has something to do with the Declaration of Independence, but you might have lost track of a few of the finer details over time—especially if it’s been a number of years since your last American history class.
When Is the 4th of July?
The Fourth of July falls this year on Sunday, July 4, 2021. Although it’s been celebrated since 1777, it wasn’t declared a federal holiday until 1870. Since the holiday is always on July 4, the day of the week changes each year.
The History of the 4th of July
To really understand the significance of the holiday, we need to rewind about 400 years. Native Americans had already been living in North America for years, and a small colony of European immigrants had formed in Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 1600s. But the story of Independence Day starts roughly around the time that the Mayflower sailed to America in 1620 (although we typically associate that journey with the Thanksgiving holiday).
The 102 immigrants who came over on the Mayflower were mostly protestants from Britain who left because they didn’t want to join the Church of England and so they were no longer welcome in Britain. They left in search of religious freedom, searching for a place where they could live freely without judgment or persecution for their beliefs. In the fall of 1620, they docked in what is now known as New England.
Over the next few years, more Europeans made their way to North America and formed the 13 colonies. These colonies would later become states New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
What Is the 4th of July?
The colonists continued to live away from British rule for 150 years, although tensions between the two steadily rose, until the American Revolution began in 1775. Many people associate the Fourth of July with the end of the war, but that’s not actually the case. One year into the war, the Continental Congress voted to approve the writing of a document that would declare America’s independence from Britain. Thomas Jefferson drafted the official Declaration of Independence, and on July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the declaration and America was officially fighting for their independence. Later, 56 representatives from the 13 colonies signed the declaration at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia.
The holiday itself commemorates the first time the 13 colonies officially declared America as an independent country, and although the Revolutionary War wasn’t won until 1783, we celebrate the symbolism of the declaration each year on July 4.