The Story of the 4th of July


By: The Pipeline

We celebrate American Independence Day on the Fourth of July every year. We think of July 4, 1776, as a day that represents the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation. But July 4, 1776 wasn't the day that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence. (They did that on July 2, 1776.)

It also wasn’t the day the American Revolution began. (That had happened back 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.) Nor was it the date the Declaration was signed, which was August 2, 1776.

So what did happen on July 4, 1776?

The Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They had been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2 and finally agreed on all of 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 is now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) It is also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. 

In contrast, we celebrate Constitution Day each year on September 17, which is the anniversary of the date the Constitution was signed, not the anniversary of the date it was approved. If we had followed this same approach for the Declaration of Independence we would being celebrating Independence Day on August 2 each year - the day the Declaration of Independence was signed!

How did the Fourth of July become a national holiday?

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 the 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 too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.

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 began to come apart, and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate 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 one hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress declared July 4 to be a national holiday. This was 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.


This article originally appeared in the Pipeline on June 29, 2016.

Adapted from .

The Pipeline

Keeping employees connected.


Gavin LeBlanc || 30-Jun-2016 12:29 PM
Thanks. I feel smarter. I knew Jefferson and Adams both died on the 4th (same day), but always figured they all signed on July 4th. Cool.
Jaime Thibodaux || 30-Jun-2016 12:05 PM
Great read! Can't wait to get home and share this with my kids. Thanks!

Write Your Comment

Captcha Image