Do you know the history of the Fourth of July?

Published 6:28 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Americans across the land will celebrate Independence Day this week, also commonly known as the “Fourth of July.” It is a time for fireworks, family gatherings and barbeques. At my house, ribs and homemade ice cream always top the menu.

This is one of the oldest American holidays, dating back to the very founding of this country. Even before the Revolutionary War, colonists held annual celebrations of the English king’s birthday. Crowds would gather and ring bells, have parades, bonfires, and of course, give speeches. American politicians have always liked giving speeches.

In the summer of 1776, the celebrations changed as the colonists began holding mock funerals for King George III. Groups would have public readings of the Declaration of Independence. It was their way of celebrating America’s newfound liberty and the end of the English monarchy’s hold over the American territory.

Email newsletter signup

Philadelphia held its first Independence Day celebration on July 4, 1777, while the new country was still at war. John Adams, our second President, wrote to his wife Abigail, that the day “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 the Continent to the Other.”

The very next year, George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to help mark the day. In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4 an official state holiday, just months before the victory over the British at Yorktown.

For many years, the different political parties of the day, Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, held separate Independence Day celebrations in many different large cities. After the War of 1812, when America once again defeated Great Britain, Independence Day celebrations became even more popular with a clear patriotic theme.

It was almost one hundred years after the first Independence Day celebration before the U.S. Congress made July 4 a federal holiday in 1870. In 1941, on the eve of World War II, Independence Day became a paid holiday to all federal employees.

Regardless of how you choose to spend this year’s holiday, take a few minutes to reflect on what a great country America remains. While the United States has challenges domestically and internationally, it remains the brightest beacon of light for liberty and democracy in the entire world.

As you watch Old Glory flutter in the breeze and perhaps hear a few bars of the “Star Spangled Banner” or “America the Beautiful,” don’t be ashamed if your heart gives a flutter or a tear comes to your eye.

Remember that we celebrate much more than the many heroes that founded and fought for this country. We also celebrate what has been called one of the best known sentences in the English language. “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.”

Happy Fourth of July to all.

Dan Ponder can be reached at