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Fun Historical Facts About Independence Day (4th of July)

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Independence Day Fireworks on the 4th of July

Every year millions of Americans pause to watch fireworks shows in honor of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  But, where did this tradition begin?  And what exactly are we celebrating?  What happened in 1776?

Every year millions of Americans pause to watch fireworks shows in honor of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. But, where did this tradition begin? And what exactly are we celebrating? What happened in 1776?

Independence Wasn't Always the Goal

At the start of the American Revolutionary War, in 1775, only the minority of the American colonists favored a break with England. However, as the war continued, the tides turned.

The original issue behind the Revolutionary War was that the American colonists were being heavily taxed by Great Britain, but didn’t have any representation in English Parliament. This lead to the famous slogan, “Taxation without representation.”

In the first year of the war, it became clear that success would not be found unless the colonies declared their independence from their mother empire.

How Much Do You Already Know About Independence Day?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. When was the Declaration of Independence Adopted?
    • July 4, 1776
    • July 2, 1776
    • July 2, 1789
    • July 4, 1789
  2. Has July 4th Always Been the Clear Choice For Independence Day?
    • Yes
    • No, some wanted Independence Day to Be July 2 to commemorate the Continental Congress agreeing to Declare Independence
    • No, some wanted Independence Day to be July 8 to commemorate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence
  3. When Was the Liberty Bell Rung in Celebration of the Declaration of Independence?
    • When Thomas Jefferson finished the first draft
    • When it was ratified by Congress
    • On July 4
    • When the first newspaper published it
    • At its first public reading
  4. Which Three Presidents Died on Independence Day?
    • George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams
    • John Adams, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren
    • Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison
    • James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Adams
    • James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams
    • John Quincy Adams, John Adams, William Henry Harrison
    • Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams
  5. In What Year Did Congress Approve the Use of Fireworks to Celebrate Independence Day?
    • 1776
    • 1777
    • 1778
    • 1781
    • 1786
    • 1796
    • 1824
    • 1857
    • 1941
  6. In What Year Did Independence Day Officially Become a Federal Legal Holiday?
    • 1776
    • 1777
    • 1789
    • 1800
    • 1841
    • 1876
    • 1941
    • 1976
    • It isn't a legal holiday

Answer Key

  1. July 4, 1776
  2. No, some wanted Independence Day to Be July 2 to commemorate the Continental Congress agreeing to Declare Independence
  3. At its first public reading
  4. James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams
  5. 1777
  6. 1776

The First Continental Congress and Official Motion for Independence

It took great effort to convene the first continental congress as the 13 colonies operated as independent colonies at the time. However, there was a general consensus that a discussion on how to fund General George Washington’s Revolutionary army was needed. Eventually they met with this discussion as one of their primary objectives.

On June 7, 1776, at the Pennsylvania State house, now known as Independence Hall, delegate Richard Henry Lee from Virginia proposed a motion for independence. He wrote:

"Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."

The Committee Behind the Declaration of Independence

On June 11, consideration of the movement was postponed when the colonies voted 7:5, with New York declining to vote. However, a committee of 5 people was appointed to draft a statement that presented the colonies case for independence to the world. On the committee were Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania, John Adams from Massachusetts, Roger Sherman from Connecticut and Robert R. Livingston from New York. Although he was the youngest member of the committee, Thomas Jefferson was considered the most eloquent writer and was the primary author of this statement. John Adams was the most enthusiastic member of the committee about declaring independence from England. He believed that he had already written the document that was going to lead to independence in May of 1776.

The movement for independence was re-visited on July 2, 1776. The vote was unanimous in the affirmative, with the exception of New York, who again declined to vote. New York later voted in the affirmative.

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Jefferson-the Father of American Independence

Thomas Jefferson was the youngest member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, the second youngest member of the Continental Congress that ratified the Declaration, and the primary author of the Declaration.

Thomas Jefferson was the youngest member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, the second youngest member of the Continental Congress that ratified the Declaration, and the primary author of the Declaration.

Debate Over Which Day is Independence Day

The events of this day led some of the founding fathers, particularly John Adams, to believe that Independence Day should be celebrated on July 2, not July 4. According to the History Channel John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, saying, “July 2 ‘will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival’ and that the celebration should include ‘Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.’”

The article also states that John Adams felt so passionately that July 2nd should be Independence Day that he declined invitations to speak at and attend Independence Day celebrations held on July 4.

Acceptance of the Declaration of Independence

Eighty Six changes were made to Thomas Jefferson’s original draft, and on July 4, 1776, the 5th draft of the committee’s statement was accepted by the continental congress as the official Declaration of Independence. The first draft can be seen in the Library of Congress and the fifth and official version is kept in the National Archives, a few blocks away. One of the reasons this document was monumental was because it took the blame from Parliament and shifted it to include the King, King George III, himself. While we herald the document as a great act of revolution and freedom today, it was also as treasonous as a document can be.

Publication of the Declaration and the Ringing of the Liberty Bell

The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence. It did so on July 6, 1776. The famous ringing of the Liberty Bell occurred 2 days later, on July 8, 1776, at the first official public reading of the declaration.

Liberty Bell-the Symbol of American Independence

This bell was rung on July 8, 1776 to mark the first official public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

This bell was rung on July 8, 1776 to mark the first official public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

History of 4th of July Fireworks

Although cannon salutes were originally one of the most popular methods of celebrating, fireworks have been part of the celebration of Independence Day from the beginning. They were officially approved for use in Independence Day celebrations by congress on July 4, 1777, the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Today, more than 14,000 fireworks displays occur every year. The largest of which is Macy’s Fourth of July Spectacular held in New York City. The show includes roughly 7500 pounds of fireworks during the thirty minute show.

Which Three Presidents Died on Independence Day?

Another interesting fact is that 3 of the US Presidents have passed away on the Fourth of July. All three were founding fathers. John Adams, the 2nd US President, and Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd US president, died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the declaration. Both men signed the Declaration of Independence. James Monroe, the 5th US president, died July 4, 1841. Although he didn't sign the Declaration, he did sign the US constitution.

Independence Day: An Official Holiday

Even though the Fourth of July has been celebrated since the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, it hasn’t always been a national holiday. Independence Day was officially made a legal federal holiday in 1941. It is one of 4 federal holidays that are celebrated on the same calendar day every year.

Comments

kbdressman (author) from Clinton Township, Michigan on June 21, 2015:

I'm glad you enjoyed it, tsmog! I hope you'll share it with your social networks as the holiday gets closer so your friends can enjoy it as well!

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on June 17, 2015:

Very enjoyable well worth the read. I learned much while pondered our Founding Fathers and the significance of July 4th. Thank you for sharing while offering great information to share with friends next month on that day's celebration :-)

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