Why We Celebrate Independence Day on July 4th

In 1776 John Adams wrote to his wife: “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival…It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” As we know, Adams was a couple of days off in his prediction that American independence would be celebrated on July 2nd. He did have reason to believe his prediction would come true, however. On July 2, 1776, the members of the Continental Congress first voted to declare independence from Britain.

Their decision was based on the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately for Jefferson, the next two days were spent listening to Congress’ objections to certain aspects of the Declaration. Like a writer being criticized by a room full of editors, Jefferson sulked but said little as Congress chipped away at his writing. Among the passages it eliminated was one on the evils of the slave trade and another on the crimes the British people in general had committed against Americans. The most famous passage of all, however, remained untouched except for the substitution of one word:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

On July 4, 1776, Congress approved their revised version of the Declaration. No one in Congress at the time seemed to particularly note the occasion; Adams left no record of his thoughts on that date and Jefferson only wrote that he went shopping. The next day, however, broadside editions of the Declaration were available to the public and on July 6, the Pennsylvania Evening Post printed the full text on its front page. That first year that the Declaration came out American patriots celebrated on July 8th because that is when most heard the news of the break from Britain. Since then, however, Americans have celebrated the day the revised Declaration was passed, with all the pomp and parade that Adams had hoped.