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Fourth of July: Little Known Facts

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In 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared the United States of America an independent nation not on July 4, as more than two centuries of Independence Day celebrations would suggest, but on July 2.

John Adams, a congressional delegate from Massachusetts and a future president of the new nation, wrote about the vote for independence in a letter to his wife, Abigail: “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.”

So why do Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4th? Because that was the date on the Declaration of Independence, a document that was widely publicized and reprinted from one end of the fledgling nation to the other. As a result, the Fourth of July quickly became associated with personal liberty and national independence in the minds of all Americans.

The Second Continental Congress declared the United States of America an independent nation not on July 4, but on July 2

The Second Continental Congress declared the United States of America an independent nation not on July 4, but on July 2 (photo Wikipedia)

The Fourth of July was not a federal holiday until 1941. Although July 4 had long been celebrated as the Independence Day holiday by tradition, and even by congressional decree, it was not officially a federal holiday until Congress agreed to give federal employees the day off with pay – and that didn’t happen until 1941.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who had been leaders in the American Revolution and US presidents as well as personal friends and political adversaries throughout much of their long lives, died on the same day, July 4, 1826. Their deaths came exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson had drafted and both men signed.

As John Adams was near death on the evening of July 4, 1826, his last words were reported to be: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”

John Adams was mistaken. Jefferson had died approximately five hours earlier.

In July 1776, there were approximately 2.5 million people living in the newly independent United States of America, roughly the same number of people who currently live in Brooklyn, New York.

After much debate among the Founding Fathers, the bald eagle was chosen as the new American symbol and appeared as the centerpiece of the national seal. Benjamin Franklin never really embraced the choice.


The first public recognition of American independence was in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, just a few days after Congress declared the nation’s independence from Great Britain. The Liberty Bell sounded from the tower of Independence Hall, summoning people to the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence by Colonel John Nixon. Even though Congress had adopted the Declaration on July 4, it was not publicly announced until July 8, after the document came back from the printer.

The first annual commemoration of American independence occurred on July 4, 1777, in Philadelphia while Americans were still at war with the British, fighting to hold onto the liberty they had declared for themselves a year earlier.

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