Squabbling politicians with ideological differences. Passions running high. Sweltering outside temperatures, No, it isn’t Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2020. It’s the Continental Congress in Philadelphia back in 1776. That’s where legislators gathered and haggled over how to declare sovereignty from Britain. By the time Thomas Jefferson put the finishing touches on the “Declaration of Independence,” our ties as a British colony were severed. More than that, this document masterfully created a vision for America’s future — one we still strive to live by 243 years later.
On July 4, 2020, Most Americans will grill in their backyards, at beaches or in parks — launching sparklers at dusk. Some Americans will march in parades or in protests. But despite heated politics and divided loyalties, Americans come together on July 4 to acknowledge our nation’s birthday. National Today is kicking off the festivities with details, trivia and anything else you ever wanted to know about Independence Day.
History of Independence Day
Although most of you got this history lesson in school, we know you weren’t really paying attention as the clock ticked closer to recess or the end of the school day. But you can’t fully appreciate your freedoms if you don’t know how you got them — and more importantly, how close we came to losing them. The story of America’s independence is truly fascinating with more historical twists and turns then we can possibly get into here. But at least we can get you started with the basics.
If you think Americans are an unruly lot today, consider that we come by it naturally. In the 1700s, we weren’t really a nation of “united states.” Instead, there were 13 colonies with distinct personalities and an ornery predisposition to territorialism. (Your assignment is to look up the original 13 colonies yourself since we’re busy telling the story.)
Taxation triggers a rebellion
From 1763 to 1773 Britain’s King George III increasingly squeezed the colonies as he and Parliament enacted a succession of Draconian taxes and laws. Excessive taxes on British luxury goods like tea and sugar were designed to benefit the British crown without any regard for the hardships of the colonists. By 1764 the phrase “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny” spread throughout the colonies as the rallying cry of outrage.
The more the colonists rebelled, the more King George doubled down with force. Imagine if enemy soldiers not only had the right to enter your home but the soldiers could demand that you feed and house them. The Quartering Act of 1765 allowed British soldiers to do just that.
But the Stamp Act of 1765 became the straw that broke the colonists’ backs. Passed by Parliament in March, this act taxed any piece of printed paper including newspapers, legal documents, ships’ papers — even playing cards! As the colonial grumbling got louder and bolder, in the fall of 1768, British ships arrived in Boston Harbor as a show of force. Remember, the British Navy dominated the seas all over the world due to the far-reaching presence of the British Empire.
Turning points in Boston
In the fall of 1768, as the colonial grumbling got louder and bolder. British ships arrived in Boston Harbor as a show of force. At the time, the British Navy was one of the best-equipped and well-trained military forces in the world.
Tensions boiled over on March 5, 1770 in Boston Harbor during a street fight between a group of colonists and British soldiers. The soldiers fired the shots that killed 47-year-old Crispus Attucks, the first American and black man to die along with three other colonists in the “Boston Massacre”.
In 1773, the Boston Tea Party (from which today’s Tea Party Republicans get their name) erupted when colonists disguised as Mohican Indians raided a British ship, dumping all the tea overboard rather than pay the taxes. Continued pressure led to resistance and the start of the Revolutionary War in the towns of Lexington and Concord when a militia of patriots battled British soldiers on April 19, 1775. Conditions were ripe for American independence.
Ongoing fights for equality
Wealthy, white colonial landowner delegates gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 to draft a document proclaiming their liberation from Britain, reaffirming their rights as free men. But whole other groups of people are excluded — Native Americans, women, slaves, and Jews.
Between 1619 when the first African slaves were delivered to Jamestown, Virginia — and 1776 — 20% of colonial America (about a half million people) were enslaved. Worse, the Founders would soon specify that not only were black males not entitled to their freedom, each man was considered only “three-fifths” of a white man when counted by census takers.
Prominent white women were pushing for their rights, too. At a time when white women of every class were unable to own land or inherit property without permission from a husband, son or father, John Adams’ wife Abigail issued a warning: “Remember the ladies. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
Ultimately, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence was a contentious process. After much debate over what to include and what to leave out, Jefferson, tasked with pulling the document together, envisioned a nation where “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” crystallized the very meaning of being an American.
Finally, the Declaration was fully ratified on July 4, 1776. America stands today at another historical crossroads as we consider what it means to be American on July 4, 2019 — Independence Day.
Independence Days Around the World
|France||Bastille Day||French troops storm & destroy the Bastille||July 14, 2019|
|Philippines||Independence Day||Philippine Revolution against Spain||June 19, 2020|
|Mexico||Grito de Dolores||Mexican War of Independence begins||September 16, 2019|
|India||Independence Day||Marks independence from the UK||August 15, 2019|
|South Korea||Gwangbokjeol||U.S. and Soviet forces end Japanese occupation||August 15, 2019|
|Israel||Yom Ha’atzmaut||Independence from the British Mandate for Palestine||April 28, 2020|
|Peru||Fiestas Patrias||Independence from Spain||July 28, 2019|
Independence Day Traditions
Everyone Loves a Parade
American Independence Day parades go way back. By the summer of 1776, Americans celebrated the “death” of British rule with mock funerals, revelry, and feasting. Americans still love to celebrate — and if you’re seeking a truly authentic experience, travel to Bristol, Rhode Island, home of America’s oldest Independence Day parade since 1785. Watch fife and drum corps marching bands, cartoon characters and celebrities in vintage cars.
On Independence Day, we haul out family recipes for chili, barbecue ribs, chicken, and even tofu. We savor Louisiana gumbo and Maine lobster boils. There’s zesty potato salad and delicious, sweet corn roasted on the cobb. Pies and cakes are laid out. Independence Day lets you get your patriotic grub on.
Fireworks Are a Must
They chirp, whiz and bang. Fireworks originated with the ancient Chinese, spread to Europe and later added colorful displays to early American Independence Day events. Both Boston and Philadelphia launched fireworks on July 4, 1777. John Adams told his wife, Abigail, that Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfires and illumination.” This year, enjoy your Independence Day finale with a phantasmagorical fireworks display!
Independence Day timeline
A taxing time
Britain’s King George III subjects colonial America to harsh taxes and laws. This serves to benefit the Crown — not the colonists.
Parliament's so-called Stamp Act taxed the colonists on any piece of printed paper including newspapers, legal documents, ships’ papers — even playing cards.
Shots heard 'round the world
British soldiers fire the shots that killed 47-year-old Crispus Attucks, the first American and black man to die along with three other colonists in the “Boston Massacre.”
Boston Tea Party
Disguised colonists take over a British ship and dump all the British tea overboard rather than pay the taxes. Britain’s continued pressure fuels the fight for American independence.
- July 4, 1776
Declaration of Independence
The Continental Congress, after spending two days on revisions, approves the historic document's final wording. July 4 is the date that appears on the Declaration — although the official "signing" took place in August.
Americans celebrate the country's 200th birthday. Many nations send warships to New York harbor for an International Naval Review. The U.S. Mint issues a special bicentennial quarter — with new designs featuring all 50 states.
Independence Day Activities
Read the Declaration of Independence
If you're like most Americans, you've never actually read the Declaration of Independence. But if it weren't for this short but historically significant document, you wouldn't be grilling out or lighting fireworks, and you definitely wouldn't have the day off.
It's a blast — in more ways than one. Gazing at fireworks on the Fourth goes back centuries. In fact, John Adams alluded to this type of celebration in a letter he wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776.
Visit a national landmark or historic site
America is full of fascinating historical landmarks and sites. No matter where in the country you live, there is almost certainly a site of historical importance nearby. Some ideas could include a Native American reservation, a Civil War battleground, a government building, or a war memorial.
Why We Love Independence Day
It's the most delicious day of the summer
There are few days of the year that offer as much food variety as the Fourth of July. Steak? Check. Chicken wings? Yep. Fresh strawberry pie? Absolutely. Macaroni & cheese? You got it. No matter what your craving, it's sure to be available on Independence Day.
We're all in this together
Admit it — the Fourth of July makes you feel giddy. Maybe it's the parades, maybe it's the BBQ, but probably — it's the fireworks. This is the one night of the year you can watch the sky light up surrounded by children laughing, dogs barking, and patriotic music playing.
You can wear whatever you want — as long as it's red, white, and blue
That ugly bandana you never wear? That decades-old T-shirt with an American flag on it? Those are all fair game on Independence Day — as long as they're red, white, and blue.
Independence Day dates
How to Say Independence Day in Other Languages
|Spanish (Spanish)||Grito de Dolores (Mexico)|
|French||La Fête Nationale|
|Spanish (Spanish)||Fiestas Patrias (Peru)|