The History of the Fourth of July

fourth of july signing declaration 1800

by Tiffini Theisen at

On July 4, 1776, the 13 colonies claimed their independence from Great Britain, an event that eventually led to the formation of the United States. Each year on the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, U.S. citizens celebrate this historic event.

The colonies, the populations of which were considered subjects of the King of England, declared their independence “from Britain’s Parliament as well as King George III himself,” according to

The colonists were a melting pot of not only English, Irish and Scottish but also people from elsewhere in Europe and beyond. In many colonial communities, people spoke their native languages, adhered to the customs of their countries of origin, and practiced their own faiths (although ​​Catholicism was frowned upon if not illegal in the colonies).

But the different groups had one thing in common: “They all had to swear loyalty to the King of England and submit to the law as a British subject,” the American Revolution Podcast notes.

Over time, more and more of the colonists began to resent being under the thumb of Great Britain. This tension turned to outrage when the British Parliament imposed the Stamp Act in 1765, putting a tax directly onto the colonists for the first time.

Although the tax was a relatively small amount, the colonists were enraged that they had no say in it. For them, it was a matter of principle. And although the Stamp Act was repealed the following year, in its place Parliament imposed the Declaratory Act, stating that Great Britain had complete power to legislate the colonies.

“The issues of taxation and representation raised by the Stamp Act strained relations with the colonies to the point that, 10 years later, the colonists rose in armed rebellion against the British,” according to

Over the next few years, violent rebellions were common as more and more colonists demanded freedom and viewed the British Parliament as corrupt.

These seeds of rebellion would eventually flower into the creation of the United States of America as a sovereign nation.

“The publication of Thomas Paine’s stirring pamphlet Common Sense in early 1776 lit a fire under this previously unthinkable idea. The movement for independence was now in full swing,” according to the National Archives.

Open conflict between the colonies and England was already a year old when the colonies convened a Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. During a June 7 session in the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a resolution with the famous words, “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.”

Lee’s words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence, although the resolution was not followed up on immediately. On June 11, consideration of the resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. However, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies’ case for independence.

Members of the committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The task of drafting the actual document fell on Jefferson.

On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress reconvened, and on the following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, with New York not voting.

Discussions of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence resulted in minor changes, but the spirit of the document was unchanged.

One of the main documents that informed Jefferson’s wording of the Declaration of Independence was the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The Virginia document also ended up being the basis for the Bill of Rights.

Revisions to the Declaration of Independence continued through July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4, when it was officially adopted. Of the 13 colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration, two — Pennsylvania and South Carolina — voted against it. Delaware was undecided, and New York abstained.

John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. It is said that he signed his name “with a great flourish” so England’s “King George can read that without spectacles!”

Today, the original copy of the Declaration is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It’s stored under the most modern archival conditions to preserve the delicate, precious document.

The famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”


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