I published this piece a while back and thought you might enjoy reading it again.
I think many of us are probably fuzzy on the details of why we celebrate the 4th. Our celebrations are distracting: picnics and barbecues and parades and fireworks. A joyous day to recognize our freedom and those who fought and sacrificed for it and those continue to do so even today.
The legal separation of the original thirteen colonies was voted on by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, when the colonial representatives approved a resolution of independence put forth by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. What a momentous vote! None of the men present could predict the future, what would happen to them or to the independent country they now declared in existence, and the bravery they took in doing so must have been heavily weighed by fear for the future.
The Declaration of Independence, a statement of the reasons for this decision, had been prepared by the so-called Committee of Five (John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut) appointed by the Congress, with Thomas Jefferson as its principle architect. The Congress debated the content and wording of the Declaration, and approved it with all signing it on July 4.
During this time of debate, John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail:
“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 commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. 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, from this time forward forever more.”
Ben Franklin agreed, but from the outset, the public preferred to celebrate independence on July 4, the date the Declaration was signed. What’s most interesting is that even though Jefferson, Adams and Franklin all wrote they had signed that day, many historians believe the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776.
The first recorded use of the name “Independence Day” occurred in 1791, and the U.S. Congress made Independence Day a paid holiday in 1938.
The most heart-rending association with the Fourth of July, at least to me, is that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration. They were fierce political opponents with very different opinions on government, Jefferson a bit of a libertarian radical for his time, and Adams a bit of a buttoned-down conservative. But they were friends. After the death of Jefferson’s wife in 1782, Jefferson was sometimes a guest in the Adams’ home, where Abigail Adams and Jefferson became friends as well. This friendship results in 380 letters written between 1777 until their death. You can read these letters in a book entitled The Jefferson-Adam Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams by Lester J. Cappon (Editor):
So to the men who gave us this great nation: my unending and heartfelt gratitude on this July Fourth.
And to all of you who stop by: Happy Fourth of July!!