A History of Independence Day Celebrations

On July 4, citizens of our great nation celebrate Independence Day as they have since 1776. 

Surprisingly, as late as the spring of 1775, most colonists did not favor complete independence from Great Britain (History.com). However, by 1776, their attitudes had shifted. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence (History.com). John Adams, who assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence, was ready to celebrate that day and wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 would be celebrated with parades, games, sports, and other festivities “from one end of this Continent to the other” for generations to come (History.com). 

Though Adams was correct about the zeal of the celebrations, his date was a bit off. Two more days passed before the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was complete and formally adopted (History.com). 

That first year, festivities were modeled on celebrations of the king’s birthday, “which had been marked annually by bell ringing, bonfires, solemn processions, and oratory,” though in many towns they also  “included a mock funeral for the king, whose ‘death’ symbolized the end of monarchy and tyranny” for the colonists (Britannica.com).

John Adams and lead author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson enjoyed fifty years of Independence Day celebrations before they both passed away on July 4, 1826 (New England Historical Society).

The first organized celebrations of Independence Day took place on July 4, 1777, and in several cities included firework displays. Philadelphia’s celebration also included a 13-gun salute fired from a ship’s cannon to honor the 13 colonies (History.com). There were also 13 rockets fired before and after the firework show (History.com). 

In 1941, Independence Day became an official federal holiday that is celebrated in many of the same ways it has always been throughout history, though the cannons and rockets set off in Philadelphia had been subtracted from the festivities due to safety concerns.

This year we will enjoy the parades, carnivals, barbeques, and fireworks for Independence Day on Sunday, which means most businesses will be closed and workers will have a day off on July 5. The staff at Waitte’s Insurance Agency are wishing you a happy and safe holiday! Give us a call when you are ready to discuss your unique insurance needs. 



New England Historical Society

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