Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day?
Americans know the story about the American Revolution, but for the sake of this blog post, it is worth summarizing. The American Revolution began because of many reasons, but one of the key reasons was because the American colonies were not getting fairly represented in the British parliament. There was taxation, without representation, that is, the American colonies were ruled by parliamentary members who were never voted into office by the colonies. There was virtual representation.
Colonists tried to work with the British government on fair agreements that would give them a greater voice at the table, but actions like the Stamp Act went into effect and frustrated the colonists even more. When colonists protested, sometimes angrily and violently, the British Army responded with forceful reactions and retaliations. It was then that the Founding Fathers, mostly wealthy landowners with a lot of money on the line, realized that the colonies needed to break away from British rule, and a new country needed to be formed.
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by members of all 13 American colonies forming the 2nd Continental Congress. Two days prior, on July 2nd, the Congress voted to severe ties with the British. The Declaration was written by a five-man committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and Robert Livingston. After some revisions, and drafts, they nailed down the final manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history.
For nearly 250 years, Americans have celebrated their independence. For many of those years, we’ve celebrated the same way with cookouts, fireworks, recreational activities and of course, the red, white, and blue. But why do we celebrate Independence Day? What is so special about this day that has caused us to pause, reflect, and celebrate?
Why Do We Celebrate Independence Day? Facts
That question can be answered if we know some more facts surrounding July Fourth. First, did you know that Independence Day wasn’t established as a federal holiday by the U.S. Congress until 1870? The American government moves slowly but taking 90 plus years to recognize the birth of a nation, that’s slow as molasses. In addition, it was not a paid government holiday until 1941, 165 years after the country’s founding. Lastly, the people of Massachusetts didn’t need to be asked “Why do we celebrate Independence Day?” They were the first state to officially recognize the Fourth of July as a holiday.
Why do we celebrate Independence Day by setting off fireworks? That tradition started in Philadelphia one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Apparently, the fireworks show was called a “rocket show,” and it included the firing of 13 cannons to honor each of the 13 colonies. It seems celebrations back in those days were similar to the jubilation we experience today. The events have simply stuck to the American psyche. Fireworks are the norm and have been ever since.
But to answer the question, why do we celebrate Independence Day, we can find the answer in the writings of John Adams, one of the Declaration of Independence’s co-authors.
He wrote to his wife that the fledgling nation’s newly announced independence “will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” Adams added that the festivities would include “pomp and parade, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
He was right. We have parades, we have games (think hot dog eating contest), we sometimes shoot guns, and we definitely have some bonfires. For nearly 250 years, Americans every year make it a point to stop and celebrate their independence. Now, what no researcher or historian can prove is why Americans have chosen to celebrate with fireworks or why the birthdate is still so important more than 200 years later.
It’s also important to note that for many, the Fourth of July is just a day off from work. The holiday means enjoying extra time with family and friends and having some fun. But for others it is truly a patriotic event where freedom is celebrated.
Why do we celebrate Independence Day with sales events and certain events? Well, there is no doubt that in our democratic market economy there is a way for commercialism to creep into our political milestones. Some companies have President’s Day sales, and Memorial Day sales, so it is logical that we have sales events on the Fourth of July. It comes with the territory, and it is a way for businesses to gain attention during a nationwide event like the Fourth of July. It is a way for businesses to recognize the nation’s milestones and become an active participant in the jubilation.
If you ask a veteran, why do we celebrate Independence Day they would likely answer with a deliberate and meaningful answer. Sure, there might be some veterans that respond that the Fourth of July is celebrated to drink beer and barbecue, but most of them will respond that the Fourth of July is celebrated to rededicate ourselves to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
And that, is never a bad thing. Freedom is the greatest gift on any birthday.