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Few colonists in America were enthusiastic about independence in the early days of the Revolutionary war battles. However, as Great Britain expanded its hostilities that began to change. Plus, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet, a masterful piece of propaganda, became a powerful tool in convincing colonists that independence was the only choice.

The Continental Congress met in Pennsylvania on June 7, 1776. Richard Henry Lee, a founding father from Virginia introduced a motion calling for independence from Great Britain at that time. The motion was known as the June 1776 Lee Resolution. Debate on this motion continued until a five-man committee with Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Ben Franklin, John Adams and Robert Livingston were selected to write a statement that explained and justified a break from England. That document of justification became the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson is given most of the credit for its creation.

On July 2, 1776, the Congress voted in favor of this declaration but not until July 4, 1776, did the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence get approved and established July 4th as the anniversary of our Independence from Great Britain.

On July 5th, 1776, ships docked in the harbor in Philadelphia were dressed up in red, white and blue; each ship’s cannon fired a thirteen-gun salute representing the thirteen colonies. There were fireworks, a band, and a city beautifully illuminated to celebrate America's Declaration of Independence.

John Adams wanted the grandest of celebrations throughout the new country. It was an event of historical proportions! What these thirteen colonies and the founders had achieved was nothing that had been done before in the history of the world.

Adams along with George Washington wanted our independence anniversary to be celebrated every year in magnificent style. Adams wanted July 4th to be "solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews (an older word for shows), Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

July 4th really became celebrated after the war of 1812 against Great Britain. Fireworks became more readily available and were safer than cannon and gunfire! In 1870 Congress established Independence Day on July 4th as a federal holiday and it is one of only four federal holidays with a specific month and day every year.

Contributed by Ardeth Meier,
Chairperson for Americanism