Later this week America will celebrate Independence Day, commemorating when members of the Second Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Following its adoption, the Declaration was read to the public in various American cities. Festivities including concerts, bonfires, parades and the firing of cannons and muskets usually were part of the occasion.
Philadelphia – the city where the Declaration was signed – was the first city to commemorate the 4th of July in 1777. The people rang bells, fired guns, lit candles, and set off firecrackers. Overall celebrations were rather calm, considering the country was still at war.
George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence in 1778. In 1781, several months before the key American victory at Yorktown, Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday. July 4th became a U.S. federal holiday in 1941.
Our second president, John Adams, approved of the celebrations. As he once wrote to his wife Abigail, “I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other...”
Interestingly enough, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
My family will be in Williamsburg, Va., a few days before the Fourth. Crazy summer schedules mean we'll have to come home before the holiday, but what a fantastic place it would be for celebrating!
What will you be doing this weekend to mark Independence Day?