The First Independence Day

by Tamera Lynn Kraft
On June 7th, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, representative from Virginia, made a resolution in the Continental Congress. He proposed, “Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

The resolution was postponed until July 1st to give the delegates a chance to convince the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and South Carolina to vote yes on the resolution.

On June 11th, Congress commission five men to write a declaration listing grievances against the king of England and to declare the United States of America to be an independent nation. Those five men were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Thomas Jefferson was considered the most elegant writer of the five and was elected to write the document. He finished it on June 28th, and it was submitted for review.

On July 1st, debate on Lee’s resolution began. The Congress decided that any resolution for independence should be unanimous, and the vote was postponed a day. The next day, the resolution was passed with every state but New York voted yes. New York abstained from the vote.

John Adams was sure July 2nd would be known as Independence Day. He write to his wife, “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.”

The Declaration of Independence was accepted on July 4th. Later that evening, the liberty bell rang out in celebration. 200 copies were ordered to be made called the Dunlap Broadsides. The first real Independence Day celebration that year took place on July 8th when the document was read in the square in Philadelphia. A few days later, it was read to General Washington’s troops.

The next year, the day was celebrated with picnics and fireworks, a tradition that continues to this day.

Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870, but it didn’t become a legal federal holiday until 1941 when Congress passed the law. Even before the law was passed, Adam’s vision of Independence Day became a reality every year since our Independence was declared.

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