Well, tough question, but let’s start with the Declaration of Independence. We all celebrate American Independence Day on the Fourth of July every year. July 4, 1776, represents birth of the United States of America as an independent nation; free from the Tyranny of King George and our English overlords.
(or Journal, or Business Card Holder or Bottle Opener or Phone Case). To display your patriotism of course. The same reason I have an American Flag hanging in front of my house. I am a patriot (you probably are too) and I love expressing some “Independence Day” style. Sipping whiskey from the most patriotic hip flask ever, is just a start.
July 4, 1776 wasn't the day the Continental Congress declared independence (they actually did that on July 2, 1776). It also wasn’t the day we started the American Revolution either (that had happened in April 1775). And it wasn't the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (that was in June 1776). Or the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn't happen until November 1776). Or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776). So what did happen on July 4, 1776?
Our Continental Congress approved the final version of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They'd been working on it for months and continued making changes for a few days after the draft was submitted on July 2nd. July 4th is the day they all finally agreed on the edits and changes.
July 4, 1776, became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) It’s also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date that stuck. Besides, 4th of July has a nice ring to it. August the 2nd just doesn’t roll off the tongue.
In contrast, we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17th of each year, the anniversary of the date the Constitution was signed, not the anniversary of the date it was approved. If we’d followed this same approach for the Declaration of Independence we’d being celebrating Independence Day on August 2nd of each year, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed!
For the first 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. It was too new and too much else was happening in our young nation. By the 1790s, a time of bitter partisan conflicts, the Declaration had become controversial. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was way too French and much too anti-British, which ran against the policies of the day.
By 1817, John Adams complained in a letter that America seemed uninterested in its past. But that would soon change. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party was coming apart at the seams and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. They printed copies of the Declaration and began circulating them again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826, may even have helped to promote the idea of July 4 as an important date to be celebrated.
Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1939 and 1941.
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