Though the Fourth of July is almost iconic to Americans, some claim the date itself is somewhat arbitrary.
The following timeline
provides an outline of the events that lead to the signing of the
Declaration of Independence and America's break from British rule.
1774 - The 13 colonies send delegates to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
to form the First Continental Congress. While unrest was gradually
simmering, the colonies were not yet ready to declare independence.
April 1775 - King George's troops advance on Concord,
Massachusetts, prompting Paul Revere's midnight ride that sounded the
alarm "The British are coming, the British are coming."
The subsequent battle of Concord, famous for being the "shot heard
round the world," marked the unofficial beginning of the American
May 1776 - After trying to work out their differences
with England, the colonies again sent delegates to the Second Continental
June 1776 - While admitting that the situation has reached the point
of no-return, a committee
was formed to compose the formal Declaration of Independence. Headed by
Thomas Jefferson, the committee also included John Adams, Benjamin
Franklin, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman.
June 28, 1776 - Jefferson presented the first draft of the declaration
July 2, 1776 -
After a prolonged debate, the Congress voted unanimously (12-0), but secretly, for
complete independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
John Adams, wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.
July 4, 1776 -
The Congress reworked the text of the Declaration till July 4th, when twelve colonies voted for adoption and released an unsigned copy to the printers. New York abstained from
John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign
the Declaration of Independence. It is said that he signed his name
"with a great flourish" so "King George can read that
July 6, 1776 - The Pennsylvania Evening Post is the first newspaper to
print the Declaration of Independence.
July 8, 1776 - Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration with public readings and bonfires on July 8. The bell in Independence Hall, then
known as the "Province Bell" would later be renamed the
"Liberty Bell" after its inscription - "Proclaim Liberty
Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof."
August 2, 1776 - A fair printing was signed by the members of the Congress, but even that was kept secret to protect the members from British reprisal.
(However the Fourth of July holiday has been accepted as the official anniversary of U.S. independence and is celebrated in all states and territories of the U.S.)
July 4, 1777 - On July 4, 1777, Philadelphia celebrated 4th July in a
way similar to modern day celebrations. Bonfires were organized, candles illuminated the
houses and public
buildings, church bells rang out load, and cannons were shot from
the ships. In Rhode Island, British officers noted the firing of 13 guns, once at morning and again as evening fell.
1778 - General George Washington marked the Fourth with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. Across the sea, ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France.
1781 - Massachusetts was the first legislature to recognize Independence Day.
1870 - The U.S. Congress made July 4 an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
However 4th July was not declared a legal holiday, until 1941.