Celebrating Our Country’s July 4th History

By Lisa Doss and Vonda Henderson

July 2, 1776, is a significant, yet silent day in our country’s history. The second Continental Congress approved a “resolution of independence” that made the United States legally separated from Great Britain. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, John Adams wrote, “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 forever more.” John Adams foretold the future with the exception of the date. Despite the decision to celebrate our country’s independence on July 4th in 1796, John Adams declared July 2nd as the true holiday, and declined invitations to appear at any July 4th event. Historians question the date the Declaration of Independence was actually signed; perhaps not on July 4th, but possibly even in August of that year. Have you ever wondered what occurred on subsequent July 4th holidays?  

On the 50th anniversary in 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died five hours apart from one another. Five years later, a third president, James Monroe, died. It was also the year Samuel Francis Smith’s patriotic hymn, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” was first sung.

On July 4th, 1884, a statue representing liberty was presented in the name of friendship to the U.S. minister in Paris, France. Unassembled and without her pedestal, she sailed to her home in New York Harbor. What a sight it must have been to see our Lady Liberty arriving at Liberty Island in June 1885. History reports she was received with great fanfare.

True to the intent of John Adams, the Fourth of July has traditionally been celebrated with all sorts of pomp and circumstance. With the entry of the US into WWII, Fourth of July celebrations took on new meaning. Once the US entered the war, July 4th was celebrated wherever the American troops happened to be, in the best way they could find. Some celebrated aboard ships at sea with special menus. The Second Battalion, 338th Infantry Regiment, 85th Division was honored to raise the US flag that had flown over the White House on December 7, 1941, in Piazza Venezia, Rome, Italy. In 1945, the 87th Regiment, Tenth Mountain Division, had a pie-eating contest in Caporreto, Italy.

It should be noted that approximately 30% of the 800,000 men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD, some of the celebrations for the 4th can cause our veterans stress or even combat flashbacks.   Some veterans have come to prepare themselves for the 4th to overcome these issues by avoiding the backyard variety of fireworks.   The beauty of the staged fireworks seems to be a lesser issue for most, but they each deal with the sudden explosions the best that they can.   It’s a reminder for those with veterans as neighbors and family members to let them know when fireworks are part of neighborhood parties.

Typically we celebrate the 4th in a similar fashion over the years – with cookouts, picnics, neighborhood events, parades, and ball games, flags waving proudly, and of course, fireworks.   On average, there will be about 14,000 fireworks displays lighting up the sky. Break out the red, white, and blue!

While we celebrate the freedom that was fought for so many years ago, we remember that for our military families, the battle continues today. Sacrifices to serve this great land deserve all the respect and honor we can provide. God Bless America!


My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!