Fourth of July 2021: Celebrate with History, Traditions, and Recipes

Happy Independence Day, America!

July 2, 2021
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Happy Independence Day! Do you know what happened on this day in 1776? How did the founders envision our country’s celebration? Refresh your memory with the meaning of this all-important American holiday. Plus, enjoy some fun facts: What’s on the back of the Declaration of Independence? Was it signed on July 4? Why did John Hancock sign it with such large letters? Let’s find out!

When Is Independence Day This Year?

On the 4th of July, the United States observes a federal holiday in honor of the Declaration of Independence. This holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by delegates from the 13 colonies.

Note: If the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday, the federal observed holiday is the following Monday, July 5. If the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday, the observed holiday for most (but not all) federal employees is Friday, July 3.

What Day of the Week is July 4th?

Year Independence Day (U.S.)
2021 Sunday, July 4
2022 Monday, July 4
2023 Tuesday, July 4
2024 Thursday, July 4

A Brief History of Independence Day

Independence is declared; it must be maintained.
–Sam Houston, American politician (1793–1863)

The Declaration of Independence is America’s revolutionary Charter of Freedom and the document upon which the nation’s founding principles were established.

The Declaration of Independence Was Not Officially Signed on July 4

On April 19, 1775, during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (Mass.), the first shots were fired between colonists and British troops, starting the American Revolution. After these first military conflicts, tension between Britain and her American colonists continued to mount.

Finally, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted for independence from Britain.

Two days later, on July 4, the Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, which had been written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

On July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration took place at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later that same day, other readings occurred in Trenton, New Jersey, and Easton, Pennsylvania.

Printer John Dunlap made about 200 copies of the Declaration, with the date of July 4. Known as the “Dunlap Broadsides,” these were distributed throughout the 13 colonies.

However, it wasn’t until August 2, 1776, that the Declaration was officially signed. John Hancock, president of the Congress, was the first of 56 delegates who signed this enlarged version, writing in big, bold letters.

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Image: John Trumball’s 1819 painting “Declaration of Independence.” This iconic scene with all the delegates present never actually occurred in Philadelphia.

On August 4, 1776, after delegates of the Continental Congress had signed the document, the Declaration of Independence was made official.

How Did Our Founders Envision Independence Day Celebrations?

John Adams considered July 2 to be the day when Americans actually declared their independence.

He envisioned the celebration to be one filled with fun, games, and fireworks—not an occasion for displaying military strength (as one might expect). On July 3, 1776, he wrote these words to his wife Abigail, capturing the spirit of the times:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony ‘that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States might rightfully do…’

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 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.”

On July 18, 1777, an issue of the Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:

“The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”

What’s really special about America’s celebration of freedom is it was quite different for its time, focusing on the joys of freedom. Many countries have emulated this spirit of celebration ever since.

Flag and flowers

Refresh Your Memory: The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents in the history of the United States. It was an official act taken by all 13 American colonies in declaring independence from British rule.

The document was originally written by Thomas Jefferson, but Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, along with Jefferson then worked together to make changes. The final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, but the actual signing of the final document took place on August 2, 1776.

Here is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence (U.S. 1776):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We invite you to refresh your memory as an annual tradition. Read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration at www.archives.gov.

More Fourth of July History

  • July 4, 1776: Thomas Jefferson noted in his “Weather Memorandum Book” that the weather was cloudy, the temperature 76ºF.
  • July 4, 1826: Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—signers of the Declaration of Independence who each later became president—died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the declaration.
  • July 4, 1884: The Statue of Liberty was formally presented to the United States by the people of France.
  • July 4, 1911: It was a hot Fourth of July in New England. All-time state records were set in Nashua, New Hampshire (106°F), and Vernon, Vermont (105°F).

Independence Day fireworks

4th of July Trivia

While we celebrate with fireworks, let’s not forget the freedom that our founding fathers declared to the world over two centuries ago. Here are some fun facts you may not know about the holiday:

Q. Why is the name “John Hancock” synonymous with “your signature”?
A. Hancock’s bold signature on the Declaration of Independence dwarfed the signatures of the other signers. Legend says that Hancock wanted the king of England to see the rebellious signature without having to wear his spectacles!

Q. When did America actually declare independence?
A.
Congress ruled in favor of independence on July 2, 1776. Two days later, on July 4, Congress accepted Jefferson’s declaration document. Nonetheless, John Adams thought July 2 should be Independence Day.

Q. How many people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4?
A. Only two men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776—John Hancock, president of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, secretary of the Congress.

Q. On what day did most people sign the Declaration of Independence?
A. August 2, 1776.

Q. When did Independence Day become a national holiday?
A. The Fourth of July was not declared a federal holiday until 1938!

Q. Is anything written on the back of the Declaration of Independence?
A. Yes, but not a treasure map like a certain favorite film suggests! The message “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776” is written upside down on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

Q. Where is the Declaration of Independence document today?
A. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft was lost and the one eventually signed is the “engrossed” document. It is kept at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for all to see.
Of the 200 printed copies of the Declaration made by John Dunlap (the Dunlap Broadsides), only 27 are accounted for. One of these was found in the back of a picture frame at a tag sale and sold at auction for $8.14 million to television producer Norman Lear in 2000. It traveled the country on display to the public for ten years.

Q. Where was George Washington when the Declaration of Independence was written?
A. In July 1776, Washington was in New York with his troops. On July 9, he received his copy of the Declaration with a note from John Hancock telling Washington to share the news with his soldiers. The men were so excited that they rushed over to the Bowling Green and tore down the statue of King George III. Shortly after this, the British, as Washington expected, attacked the colonists and the American Revolution was under way. The colonists fought eight long, hard years (1775–83) for independence from Britain. 

After the war, George Washington hoped to retire and return to Mount Vernon, Virginia. Instead, in 1789, the electors unanimously voted him in as the first president of the United States. Because it was such an honor, and he felt a great duty to his country, he accepted. He departed Mount Vernon on April 16 and arrived in New York City on April 30 for his inauguration. As he took his oath standing on the balcony of Federal Hall, the crowd broke into cheers. The members of his first Cabinet included Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state and Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury.

Celebrating the Fourth of July

In the United States, Independence Day is a federal holiday traditionally observed with parades, concerts, picnic food, and fireworks.

Take a look at our Fourth of July recipes to have a delicious picnic or barbecue—and for a list of patriotic desserts!

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Also, be sure to check the American Flag Guidelines so that you can proudly and properly display your flag.

How do YOU celebrate the 4th of July? Fireworks? Barbeque? Both? Let us know in the comments—and have a Happy Independence Day, America!

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Reader Comments

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The not-so-great generation

Fourth of July used to be a neighborhood block party with a BBQ and potluck with adults visiting, games for the kids and music. Now the fourth (and the weeks prior to and after) are all about ear-piercing explosives, fireworks that soar over homes and skies filled with putrid smoke. The following morning, the streets are littered with fireworks debris making the neighborhood look like a war zone. The casualties are a terror-filled night for pets and veterans, stressed wildlife, injuries and possible loss of home and property due to fireworks-related fires. In my opinion, there is not much to celebrate this year. All the fuss made over having to wear masks and the decision not to not get the Covid-19 vaccine disgusts me. The greatest generation never would have never been so selfish. They believed in working together for the greater good. Read Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation and you'll see you have nothing to whine about.

Happy Independence Day everyone!

No matter how we all celebrate our Independence, may one and all have a wonderful time. But most of all, teach yourselves and your family young ones about the true history of our nation and the price for freedom. We all need to be aware of our nation, both its weaknesses of the past and its strengths.

Declaration of Independence

"The document was originally written by Thomas Jefferson, but Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, along with Jefferson then worked together to make changes."

It was the Committee of the Whole in the 2nd Continental Congress that did the heavy editing of the Declaration of Independence. Particularly the part where Jefferson blamed King George III for the ills of slavery. Jefferson stated it was only Adams' and Franklin's editing he respected. Also a copy of Jefferson's rough draft can be found in his autobiography.

Happy Independence Day Us! LET FREEDOM RING!

While agreeing that the wildlife and my dogs and some people with noise aversions, don’t particularly care for boom of fireworks, even many of our forefathers felt that fireworks should be proudly displayed in celebration of our triumphs and freedoms, to celebrate our freedom from oppressive rule. This year, as opposed to all previous years since the declaration was first introduced, it is imperative that we come together as a nation and celebrate our freedom and independence, and remind those in power here that we are willing to stand for our freedom no matter the costs. If anyone reading this hasn’t noticed that our freedoms are being slowly but surely stripped, especially during this alleged pandemic, and that the leaders of this country are becoming more and more controlling, tyrannical and oppressive every year, they are either blind or fooling themselves. Freedom isn’t free, it never has been. Freedom has been paid for in blood, sweat, tears, and life by those willing to fight and die for it, for you to have it. Our country is starting to look, feel, and behave like a Third World country due to bad policies from these leaders and ever tightening restrictions against our freedoms and liberties. Time to truly stand together Americans. Semper Fi, live free or die!

Independence Day

I love celebrating our birth as a nation. I was born on Flag Day but this national holiday takes command. As a veteran of Vietnam war I do not mind the boom of the fireworks but do not care for the sound of the mortars firing them off. I celebrate by ringing the church bell at 2:00 PM as I have for nearly 48 years. A church where George Washington visited twice and John Adams once climbed up into the steeple. (I do cherish the thought, but having been there only 50 years or so, I did not witness their attendance). Retiring soon, will miss "Letting Freedom Ring" on the old bell rope each July 4th.

To Those Who Wish The Loud Booms Would Go Away

The noise does not only disturb the wildlife and veterans. Some of us civilians are disturbed by loud noises too. I probably have more of a noise aversion problem than most, though I was never in the military. I also do not appreciate the smoke or the crowds. My celebrations are done quietly at home. Still, a happy 4th to all as we deal with a different kind of enemy - the Corona Virus and it's incipient disease, Covid-19.

Fourth of July

Light the fireworks ! Happy Fourth of July !

4th of July

I wish all the loud booms would go away myself, disturbs wildlife and the veterans, even us veterans without combat experience. Happy 4th, none the less.

4th of July

Happy independence day Americans!!! If your worried about fire's water your property that's what I do while I'm drinking a beer and having a bbq..

Happy 4th. God Bless

Happy 4th. God Bless AMERICA......Let Freedom ring. Freedom will only be free if we are vigilant.

I see nothing in our

I see nothing in our declaration of independence that says it is allowable to celebrate the 4th with fireworks when the area is dry as kindling and burn everyone's forest and house down, get drunk as a skunk and beat up each other, ignore any laws by city, county or state that says we can't make total asses of ourselves because we are proud to be American. What is wrong with people?

Happy independence day world

Happy independence day world and happy fourth of July

Thank you and Happy 4th.

Thank you and Happy 4th.

I really enjoyed reading

I really enjoyed reading this!! Grade school kids should all have a copy!! It's not taught in school anymore!! Thank you forposting it !!! Ir2ii