To this day, some folks wonder why we celebrate our independence from Great Britain on July 4.
As you likely know, the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. But the declaration wasn’t approved until July 4.
Fifty-six men signed the declaration including Benjamin Franklin, the oldest at age 70, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina who was the youngest at 26.
In then-honorable fashion, future president George Washington celebrated the second anniversary of the signing by providing his troops with double rations of rum.
In 1781, Massachusetts became the first state to make July Fourth of July a state holiday. In 1785, the first public celebration was marked at Bristol, Rhode Island. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark staged the first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi River by firing cannon and ordering an extra ration of whiskey for the men as their expedition headed westward. Festivities gained wider acceptance after the war of 1812.
In 1941, Congress declared Independence Day a federal legal holiday.
Although many presidents make passionate speeches about the Fourth of July, none struck into the pride of Americans more than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address from his home in Hyde Park, New York, on July 4, 1941. He warned Americans who wish not to get involved in the war that “the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship.”
The Fourth has also been used to fight inequities. Consider the brilliant words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass who addressed the hypocrisy of slavery to a white audience with these words, “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”
Today, there are still inequalities to address in this country, whether gender, race, sexuality or poverty. There are still wars faced by Americans. There are also great freedoms to celebrate, defined every day by honorable men and women.
The Fourth of July is more than fireworks and barbecue; more than waving a sparkler to some vague notion of independence.
To truly celebrate this day, we can all refresh ourselves on our U.S. history lessons of the past. Then try to adapt the initial intent of our forefathers who sought an independent nation free of tyranny. Americans are still free. Celebrate the glorious history of this day and pray that it continues forever.