Happy Fourth of July! Happy birthday to the United States of America!
It’s been 238 years since the founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain and formed a country of 13 colonies.
You know that, of course. But it’s been a while since history class. So here’s a quick-hit history lesson on the holiday.
We should be celebrating on July 2.
Representatives of the 13 colonies, called the Second Continental Congress, actually voted on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia to declare independence.
John Adams believed that day would be marked with celebrations throughout the nation’s history.
But it wasn’t until two days later that a congressional committee approved the final draft. And it wasn’t until Aug. 2 that delegates signed the document.
But when it went to the printer, July 4 was affixed in big letters at the top of broadsheets.
You probably haven’t memorized the first line.
Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian delegate who became the nation’s third president, wrote the declaration as a formal explanation of why the colonies should secede in June 1776. Adams, later the second U.S. president, and Benjamin Franklin edited.
Its first sentence is a doozy:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
The second sentence is a much catchier – and better known: “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.”
The Revolutionary War started before independence was declared.
The declaration did not kick off the Revolutionary War.
The battles of Lexington and Concord, in April 1775 in Massachusetts, achieved that. (That’s when Paul Revere made his midnight ride.) Though at that point, most colonists still hoped for reconciliation with Britain.
The Constitution came a decade years later.
During the Revolutionary War — which eventually involved Spain, France and the Netherlands and ended in 1783 — the colonies were governed by the Articles of Confederation. In 1787, the U.S. Constitution was created to give a central government more power. (That’s the “We the people” you remember from grade school.)
We don’t call it Independence Day.
Why Americans refer to the holiday as simply the Fourth, rather than Independence Day, is a question for the ages. We don’t wish our neighbors happy October 31 while trick-or-treating, or a happy Jan. 1 while singing Auld Lang Syne.
At first, the new country hardly recognized an Independence Day. But after the War of 1812, copies of the Declaration of Independence began circulating again. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826, may also have helped to promote the idea of July 4 as a date to be celebrated, according to Slate.
Independence Day was officially made a national holiday in 1870, as part of a bill that officially recognized several holidays, including Christmas.
Some history just can’t be explained.