The History of the 4th of July

On This Date: 4th of July History

Beyond the fireworks, barbeques and spending time with friends and family, Independence Day is arguably the most important holiday in United States history. Everyone knows the story of our founding fathers writing up the Declaration of Independence and claiming their independence from Great Britain as a free nation. However, that is a fraction of the whole story, and isn’t the only noteworthy historical event that occurs on the Fourth of July.

Independence Day

It was on June 7th 1776 that Richard Henry Lee proposed a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. After a heated debate, a committee was established to draft a formal proposal to secede from Great Britain. It was not until July 2nd that all of the colonies, except for New York, decided in favor of Lee’s motion.

It was on July 4th, 1776 that the Continental Congress officially finalized the Declaration of Independence.

Celebrating Independence Day in the Beginning

Since then many people across the U.S. have celebrated in their own way. In 1778 the soon to be President George Washington issued double rations of rum to soldiers on the anniversary of Independence Day. Massachusetts was the first state to adopt Independence Day as an official state holiday in 1781, months before successfully winning the Battle of Yorktown. Additionally, even though there were no fireworks the day of the signing, there were one year later, this was about six years before Americans knew they would end up winning the war and becoming officially independent.

On This Date: July 4

In the 244 years since the signing, a lot of different events have taken place on this specific date.

United States Military Academy at West Point

In 1802 the United States Military Academy at West Point officially opened its doors. The Military academy was originally poised as a training establishment for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. It was not officially given its title until March 16, 1802 when Congress passed an act naming it such.

Louisiana Purchase

Just a year later in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase was announced to the American people by President Thomas Jefferson. For just 15 million dollars, the U.S. officially purchased what we now call the midwest, from France.

Presidential Deaths

50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within hours of each other.  On July 4th, 1826, Thomas Jefferson died of Uremia in Monticello, Virginia while John Adams died in Quincy, Massachusetts of heart failure, they were 564 miles apart.

Confederate Surrender at Vicksburg

The Confederate Army surrendered in Vicksburg in 1863 on July 4th. The Confederate army still fought for two years after this campaign but it was one of the most successful victories for the Union. Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate the 4th of July for 81 years after this loss.

Statue of Liberty Gifted

Later on in the century, France gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1884. The statue was dedicated in Paris as a commemoration of the friendship between the two countries and is a symbol of the liberty and freedom that the U.S. provides.  Lady Liberty was a beautiful sight and a symbol of hope for over 12 million immigrants that passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

Adoption of 50 Star American Flag

In recent history, the 50 star American flag that we know and fly today was adopted by President Eisenhower in 1960. The flag was originally designed by a 16-year-old Robert G. Heft for a school project. He made the flag out of $2.87 worth of fabric.  He only received a B minus as a grade from his teacher. He was not the only student to submit the design that we love today to the President, but he was the only one who physically made the flag. After his design was selected, his teacher changed the grade to an A, rightfully so.

So, while you are enjoying your own fireworks, try to remember that not only are we a free and independent nation, we have also come a long way in history. Many of the events that have occurred since the signing all those years ago have led us to where we are as a nation today.

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About the author

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Kellie is a military spouse currently residing in Japan. She acquired her bachelors degree in Communications from the oldest private military college in the United States, Norwich University.