Fourth of July fun facts
Save the date
Back in 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared the United States of America an independent nation not on July 4, as more than two centuries of Independence Day celebrations would suggest, but on July 2. John Adams, a congressional delegate from Massachusetts and a future president of the new nation, wrote about the vote for independence in a letter to his wife, Abigail:
“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
So why do Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4th? Because that was the date on the Declaration of Independence, a document that was widely publicized and reprinted from one end of the fledgling nation to the other. As a result, the Fourth of July quickly became associated with personal liberty and national independence in the minds of all Americans.
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Making it official
The Fourth of July was not a federal holiday until 1941. Although July 4 had long been celebrated as the Independence Day holiday by tradition, and even by congressional decree, it was not officially a federal holiday until Congress agreed to give federal employees the day off with pay—and that didn’t happen until 1941.
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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who had been leaders in the American Revolution and U.S. presidents as well as personal friends and political adversaries throughout much of their long lives, died on the same day, July 4, 1826. Their deaths came exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson had drafted and both men signed.
As Adams was near death on the evening of July 4, 1826, his last words were reported to be, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Sadly, Adams was mistaken. Jefferson had died approximately five hours earlier.
The death of James Monroe
Like Adams and Jefferson before him, James Monroe died on Independence Day. Monroe died on July 4, 1831, just five years after Adams and Jefferson, the third U.S. president to die on the nation’s birthday.
Monroe was the fifth president of the United States and was the last U.S. president who was considered one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, because of his service as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
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Although three U.S. presidents (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe) died on July 4, only one was born on Independence Day. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was born on July 4, 1872 in Vermont—the only U.S. president to share a birthday with the country he governed.
In July 1776, there were approximately 2.5 million people living in the newly independent United States of America, roughly the same number of people who currently live in Brooklyn, New York.
After much debate among the Founding Fathers, the bald eagle was chosen as the new American symbol and appeared as the centerpiece of the national seal. Benjamin Franklin never really embraced the choice. Writing to his daughter Sally from France in January 1784, Franklin said:
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward . . .”
Franklin told his daughter that he thought the wild turkey would make a much better symbol of the American character: “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
A taste of independence
The first public recognition of American independence was in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, just a few days after Congress declared the nation’s independence from Great Britain. The Liberty Bell sounded from the tower of Independence Hall, summoning people to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon. Even though Congress had adopted the Declaration on July 4, it was not publicly announced until July 8, after the document came back from the printer.
The first annual commemoration of American independence occurred on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia while Americans were still at war with the British, fighting to hold onto the liberty they had declared for themselves a year earlier.
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More firsts on the Fourth
The first public Fourth of July event at the White House occurred in 1804, when Thomas Jefferson was president.
The first Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi also occurred during Jefferson’s presidency; it took place at Independence Creek and was celebrated by Lewis and Clark in 1805 while they were exploring the territory Jefferson had acquired from France with the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1778, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin went to Paris in an effort to gain French support for the United States in its war of independence against Great Britain. On July 4, they hosted the first American Independence Day celebration in Europe, with a dinner for “the American Gentlemen and ladies, in and about Paris,” according to an excerpt from the “Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.”