We often think July 4, 1776, was the day the Continental Congress declared America's independence from Great Britain, but that actually happened on July 2, 1776. John Adams wanted July 2 to be celebrated as the nation's official birthday.
It wasn't the beginning of the American Revolution. That began more than a year earlier, in April of 1775, with the battles of Lexington and Concord.
It wasn't the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. That was in June of 1776.
No, the Declaration wasn't delivered to Great Britain on July 4. It wasn't received until November of 1776.
And, it wasn't the date the Declaration was signed. It was signed a month later, on Aug. 2, 1776.
So why do we celebrate Independence Day on July 4?
It is because on that day, in 1776, the Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. The Congress had worked on it for a couple of days after independence was declared and the draft was submitted on July 2, with edits and changes made until an agreement was reached on its final wording.
July 4, 1776, became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence and on the handwritten copy which was signed in August (the copy which is now on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.). It's also the date printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration which were circulated throughout the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, was the date they remembered.
July 4th was not celebrated much in the new nation until after the War of 1812, when the Federalist Party began to lose its political influence to other parties which considered themselves inheritors of the views of Thomas Jefferson and the Democrat-Republican Party organized by Jefferson and James Madison, a party which favored states' rights and limited federal powers. Printed copies of the Declaration began to be circulated again, all with the date of July 4, 1776, listed at the top.
The fact that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, may have also helped to promote the idea of July 4 as an important date to be remembered.
July 4th celebrations became more common as the years passed; but it wasn't until 1870, almost 100 years after the Declaration was adopted, that Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday in a bill which officially recognized a number of federal holidays, including Christmas. Additional legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1939 and 1941.Editorial on 07/04/2018
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