The Meaning of the 4th of July

Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn about the origins of the American Independence Day, and gain insight into why and how the day is celebrated in the United States. When you are done with the lesson, you can test your new knowledge with the quiz.

What is the 4th of July?

This year, the summer season begins on June 21st, but for many Americans, summer doesn't feel quite like it has arrived until the fourth of July decorations come out around the neighborhood. In the United States, the fourth of July is a celebratory time of fireworks, barbeques, and comradery, and for so many people around the nation, it is big part of their identity.

The fourth of July is the informal term used to refer to the American national holiday known as Independence Day. Each year, this day is a commemoration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which formally severed all ties between England and the United States in 1776. Although the document was actually drafted two days earlier, most historians believe that it wasn't approved by Congress until July 4th, which is the reason why the holiday is celebrated on that day.

After several revisions, the Declaration of Independence was presented to Congress for approval on July 4th, 1776

The following year, the day was celebrated by Congress in Philadelphia with 13 gun salutes, fireworks, banquets, parades, and red, white, and blue decorations. In 1781, the Massachusetts government was the first to recognize July 4th as an official day of celebration. A century later, in 1870, Congress recognized the day as an official holiday, though employees who were given the day off did not get paid. Beginning in 1938, Congress announced that the day would officially become a paid national holiday around the country.

Why Celebrate Independence Day?

Although the colonies had been under British rule since the first settlers arrived to Jamestown, VA in 1607, it is hard to say that later generations of colonists were British people. With more than three thousand miles between New England and Britain, and no easy means of communication, England had little interaction with the colonists, who were struggling to establish themselves in North America. This distance left many colonists frustrated by the fact that they were living so far away, but still had to live under British rule and pay taxes to the British government.

After much resistance and multiple protests, fighting erupted between the Massachusetts militias and British soldiers in April, 1775. This conflict marks the beginning of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), in which the colonists attempted to drive the British military out of the colonies. By March of 1776, the militias were able to force the British out of Massachusetts, and four months later, Congress formally declared colonial independence from England.

Regardless of how anyone might feel about the United States, this period of growth and war is a remarkable achievement. With very little training and inferior weapons, the colonists were able to win a war against one of the most well-trained and well-armed militaries in the world, largely because they believed so strongly in the ideas of freedom and liberty. Quite simply, the colonists and militia had very little chance of actually achieving victory, but they fought anyway, which is why the battle for American independence is such a strong part of the American identity.

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