TR Robertson — The Fourth of July will soon be here and many will choose a variety of celebrations to commemorate this day. Picnics, BBQ’s, family gatherings, fireworks displays, ceremonies around the country and other events may be on the agenda for the day, even in this COVID world. As the country slowly opens up, many will choose this day to get together as a way to show some degree of a return to normalcy. But, how many people truly understand the history and significance of this day and what it meant to the establishment of the beginnings of this United States of America?
July 4th is a federal holiday for the U.S., commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States. Prior to July 4th, in 1776, those living in America’s 13 Colonies were growing more and more dissatisfied with England’s King George III and his increasing taxation of the Colonies. Feeling they had no say in the British Parliament, citizens were increasingly thinking military conflict would be the only way to break away from England.
On June 11, 1776, the Colonies Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania State House (later called Independence Hall) and where they formed a committee to draft a document indicating a severing of ties with Great Britain. After a heated debate, a committee of five members was appointed made up of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston and John Adams. Jefferson was chosen to write an original draft of this document. A total of 86 changes would be made to the original draft. The Congress had voted on July 2nd to declare independence after a proposal from Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and the final document would be officially adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776.
The date of July 4th was chosen as the day of celebration, rather than the day of July 2nd, the date the vote was taken to declare independence. Also interesting is that many historians feel the final signature on the Declaration of Independence was not achieved, from the 54 representatives of all 13 Colonies, until August 2, 1776. On July 6, 1776, The Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to print the Declaration. On July 8th, public readings were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square complete with bell ringing and band music. One year later, on July 4,1777, Philadelphia marked the day with bonfires, bells and fireworks. This would spread to other towns. In 1778, Washington issued double rations of rum to all soldiers to mark the anniversary and he would do this again in 1781. Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin all wrote later that they signed the Declaration on July 4th. Adams and Jefferson are the only men who signed the Declaration to serve as President of the United States. Both men died on the same day, July 4, 1826. James Monroe, who also served as President of the United States, but was not a signer of the document, also died on July 4th in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States was born on July 4th in 1872.
Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870 and in 1938 Congress made the day a paid federal holiday. The day is usually celebrated with huge fireworks displays in various cities in the U.S. This year might be a little different as the current pandemic may have authorities limiting the number of fireworks displays to discourage large gatherings of people. In a normal year, when the firework displays were occurring, New York City had the largest display with more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics used. Other large displays occurred in Seattle, San Diego, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In many of the cities the displays are coordinated with patriotic music. Several cities in San Diego County have said they will continue the tradition and will have Fireworks, usually beginning between 8:30 to 9:00 pm.
Several unusual traditions have been established around the 4th of July.
- Eating Salmon on the Fourth of July is a tradition in New England, also served with green peas.
- For authenticity you should also offer turtle soup with the meal.
- Bristol, Rhode Island, says they have the longest running official Fourth of July celebration for a city, dating to 1785.
- Aptos, California, says they have the shortest Fourth of July parade, measuring about two city blocks long.
- In a normal year, there would be around 15,000 Independence Day fireworks celebrations
- The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular spends around $2 million on their display
- In a normal year, 150 million hots dogs are eaten on the Fourth of July.
- If it is held this year, Joey Chestnut will be going for his 13th straight Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition Championship. He consumes over 70 hot dogs for the contest.
- Other normal year facts include – we spend over $6.7 billion on this day for food and drink, more beer is sold on and around the Fourth of July holiday than during any other time of the year.
- Generally, $1 billion is spent on beer and $560 million on wine for the 4th.
This may be the most unusual Fourth of July most of us have ever observed. We won’t know, until it is over, what this Fourth will look like, but the fact remains, the Fourth of July will always be a part of our history and one of the most significant holidays we celebrate, however big or small.
Be safe, Be smart, don’t eat too many hot dogs and burgers and remember what this holiday is really all about. Regardless of what you think, we are still lucky to live in the country we live in. Celebrate wisely.