Sometimes referred to as the Fourth of July, American Independence Day, has been celebrated on July 4th as a country-wide public holiday since 1870. In 1941, the U.S. Congress made it a paid holiday, with everyone entitled to have it as a day off work.
The tradition of Independence Day goes back to the American Revolution (1775-83).
In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies who had been fighting each other – some in favour of independence from Great Britain and some against – came together to form a resolution to help achieve that independence.
It was thanks to growing hostility against Britain during the civil war, spread via revolutionary documents ( such as those written by Thomas Paine in his bestselling pamphlet, “Common Sense”, published in early 1776), that this resolution was developed.
It was on June 7th, when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, that the delegate for the state of Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution. They did, however, appoint a five-man committee, which included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain.
Consequently, Lee’s resolution, with the backing of men such as Franklin, was taken to the Continental Congress, and on 2nd July, they voted in favour of independence. Only two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson.
From that moment on, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with fireworks, parades, family gatherings, meals and concerts. The most common symbol of the holiday is the American flag, and the universally recognised “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States, which is played at all major Independence Day celebrations.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.