Why is Independence Day on the 4th of July? The history of the 4th of July holiday may not be as straightforward as you think.
Why Do We Celebrate on July 4th
The Declaration of Independence was written during a meeting of the Second Continental Congress that began on June 11, 1776. On July 2nd the Declaration of Independence was actually voted upon favorably but revisions continued even after the vote. The actual signing of the final Declaration took place on July 4, 1776.
Founding Fathers Fight
John Adams wrote to his wife on July 2nd speaking of how July 2nd (when the vote for Independence was successful) “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” Thomas Jefferson and most of the other signatories, however, followed the idea of the date of the actual signing of the document instead of the vote. Adams went so far as to refuse invitations to 4th of July parties in later years so strong was his belief we should celebrate on the 2nd of July.
The Shaping of a Holiday
To begin with, 4th of July celebrations were local and far from standardized on a specific date. Philadelphia (where the Declaration was signed) celebrated with fireworks on the 4th of July the very next year however, 1877. The revolution didn’t end until 1783 so even though independence had been declared, we still had to actually win it. Early celebrations included things like mock funerals for King George and George Washington doubled rum rations some years during the war for his troops. Massachusetts declared the 4th of July an official state holiday in 1781.
It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that the celebrations really became widespread outside of large cities however. It took until 1870, nearly a hundred years after the signing of the Declaration, for the U.S. Congress to formally declare the 4th of July as a national holiday. Then it took until 1941 for Congress to make July 4th a paid holiday for Federal employees. Then, in 1959 this was expanded so that if the 4th fell on a weekend, Federal employees would get either Friday or Monday off for the holiday.