What is the 4th of July? Meaning behind US Independence Day explained, what it marks and how it’s celebrated
This annual US holiday marking the US’s independence from British rule sees family and loved ones gathering together
Each year, the Fourth of July is marked as a major holiday in the US, with fireworks, parades, barbecues, concerts and people getting together with family and loved ones.
It’s also a federal holiday, which means that all non-essential federal government offices are closed, and every federal employee is paid for the day off.
This annual celebration of nationhood commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the United States, which was signed by Congress on 4 July 1776.
What is the meaning of 4 July?
Also known as Independence Day, the Fourth of July marks the US’s independence from Britain.
In the 18th century, a significant part of the North American continent along the Atlantic coast – known as the Thirteen Colonies – was under British rule.
They proposed to become free from the rule of King George III.
On 2 July 1776, Congress, made up of representatives from the colonies, voted to approve independence, but did not complete the process of revising the Declaration of Independence to reflect this major change.
This historic document was originally drafted by future president Thomas Jefferson, in consultation with fellow committee members John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and William Livingston. It was eventually signed on 4 July 1776.
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America,” wrote Adams, who would go on to become America’s second president 21 years later. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”
However, it has always been the fourth that has been celebrated, as this is the date that appears on the declaration.
Historians have long disputed whether members of Congress actually signed the Declaration of Independence on 4 July, even though Jefferson, Adams and Franklin all later wrote that they did. Many believe that in reality, it was signed into law a month later, on 2 August.
Both Jefferson and Adams died on 4 July 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the declaration.
How is Independence Day celebrated today?
In the early days of Independence, the Fourth of July was marked by political parades and speeches.
This evolved into a patriotic tradition, which many groups sought to claim.
In a letter to his wife, John Adams said that the day “ought to be solemnised 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.”
Contemporary Fourth of July celebrations tend to be marked in this way, with fireworks, parades, patriotic music and barbecues.
Decorations in the red, white and blue of the American flag can be seen across most towns and cities of the US during this period.
A salute of one gun for each state in the US, called a “salute to the union,” is fired on Independence Day at noon by any capable military base.
Not everyone wants to celebrate American nationhood, however.
While the Declaration of Independence declared “that all men are created equal,” with the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the subsequent laws did not apply to black people, women or Native Americans.
Police brutality, an erosion of women and LGBTQ+ people’s rights in the form of regressive policies, and hostility towards migrants mean many minority groups are reflecting on how much progress has been made since 1776 – and whether the Land of the Free includes them.