THE TRUE MEANING BEHIND Independence Day
On Independence Day, we remember the remarkable event, 242 years ago this week, that marked a rare turning point in human history — the founding of a nation on the principle of human freedom.
In July of 1776, at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, 56 men pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to that ideal. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire. The Congress actually voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they wrote: “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.”
For more than two centuries, our nation has continued to be defined by these fundamental values and principles. They are the essence of American exceptionalism.
In signing the Declaration of Independence, the delegates to the Continental Congress showed extraordinary courage and incredible vision. Their ideas went on to form the model for free peoples and representative governments around the world.
- In 1777, thirteen gunshots were fired in salute, once at morning and once again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner a modern American would find familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships in port were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.
- In 1778, from his headquarters at Ross Hall, near New Brunswick, New Jersey, General George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute (feu de joie). Across the Atlantic Ocean, Ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France.
- In 1779, July 4 fell on a Sunday. The holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5.
- In 1781, the Massachusetts General Court became the first state legislature to recognize July 4 as a state celebration.
- In 1783, Moravians in Salem, North Carolina, held a celebration of July 4 with a challenging music program assembled by Johann Friedrich Peter. This work was titled The Psalm of Joy. This is recognized as the first recorded celebration[clarification needed] and is still celebrated there today.
- In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
- In 1938, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.