The 200-year-old celebration of freedom declared by the colonists in 1776

Special to Historic City News
By Katie Lange

The Fourth of July makes us think of a lot of things: Barbecues. Parades. Fireworks. Supporting U.S. troops. Lots of red, white, and blue bunting. Will Smith’s movie “Independence Day.”  Oh yeah, and the freedom that the Founding Fathers declared to the world over 200 years ago.

On that day, years ago, 56 patriots pledged their lives and honor to defend the United States’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – a sentiment our current troops still live by.

A boy wears American flag garb on a float in a Fourth of July parade in Vale, Oregon, in 1941. (1) Photo credit Courtesy Library of Congress

While the date July 4, 1776, is ingrained in most of our memories, here are some cool facts you may not know about the holiday:

1. Unofficially, the United States’ Independence Day is actually July 2 — when the Second Continental Congress made the unanimous decision to break from England.  However, the actual Declaration of Independence wasn’t approved and adopted until July 4, when the document was officially printed and dated. The document also didn’t become official until August 2, 1776, when most congressional delegates finally signed it.

2. It’s often thought that July 4 kicked off the fight for independence, but the Revolutionary War actually began more than a year before that on April 19, 1775, when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.  That was one day after the legendary ride of Paul Revere.

3. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — both signers of the Declaration of Independence who later became president — died on July 4, 1826, within hours of each other.

4. On July 4, 1776, there were an estimated 2.5 million people living in the American colonies. On June 28, 2021, there were almost 332.5 million living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

5. Many Americans today avidly celebrate Independence Day, but it took a while to build up to modern-day festivities.  The first anniversary drew fireworks, a 13-shot cannon salute and spontaneous jubilee in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t until the War of 1812 that observing Independence Day became common. Back then, the day was often used to coincide with large public events, such as the groundbreaking of the Erie Canal in 1817 and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1828.  “Photo credit DVIDS/Airman 1st Class Alexander Cook, A child waves an American Flag pennant as an F-35A Lightning II, flies past the crowd.”

6. Americans eventually began celebrating the Fourth of July with parades, flag-waving, and fireworks – all things that Adams would have likely approved of.  According to a celebration letter he wrote to his wife on July 3, 1776, Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade … bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forevermore.”

A Fourth of July parade in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1941. | Photo credit John Vachon/Courtesy Library of Congress

7. By the 1870s, July 4 was one of the U.S.’ most celebrated holidays.  On June 28, 1870, Congress passed a law making it an unpaid federal holiday. It took 64 more years for it to become a paid one.

-This article originally appeared on the website in 2015. It has been updated in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Bringing ‘Enjoyment to the Deployment’: USO Tour Entertains Troops and Educates Performers Over 4th of July

Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, headed on a USO tour over the July 4th holiday with “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, singer Laura Bryna, former NFL cheerleader, and comedian Anjelah Johnson, Ms. America 2019 Nia Franklin, “Seal Team” actress Toni Trucks, “The Voice” champ Cassadee Pope and former UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

American troops have served for more than two centuries to keep our nation free. And while we should always honor their sacrifices, it’s also important to take time to enjoy the freedoms they provide. Here are thirteen ways you can do just that this July Fourth weekend.

Understanding the nuances of Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day might seem confusing at first – they do both honor the military community – but a quick Google search (or a quick four-minute read of this story) will show you that these two federal holidays couldn’t be more different.

Photography for this article is provided in part by American patriots and employees of The USO, a charitable not-for-profit organization that is not part of the Department of Defense (DoD). The appearance of DoD visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.