The History of the Fourth of July

This year, in addition to the barbecues, pool parties, and firework displays, celebrate July Fourth by sharing with your child the history behind the beloved American holiday.

Revolutionary War Beginnings

After the French Indian War ended, British colonists were greeted with new taxes and proclamations from King George III. These royal decrees restricted the colonists from expanding west, while their increased tax payments were used to pay off Britain’s war debt. Year after year, the colonists were met with new taxes on items like sugar and stamps, and new acts were passed that trampled on the colonists’ freedoms, such as requirements to feed and provide housing for British soldiers. The colonies became more frustrated with the taxes and acts because they did not have a representative in the British parliament, thus having no voice in the matter.

As unrest continued to grow, The First Continental Congress met in 1774. The group was made up of elected delegates from each colony who attended (all, except Georgia). Congress didn’t intend to go to war. Instead, in that first meeting, the delegates made a list of grievances against the king and planned to meet again the following year if King George III did nothing to appease their complaints. By the time they met again in 1775, it was clear Britain would not adhere to their wishes. The Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army and named George Washington supreme commander in response as war began.

The first American flag featured 13 stars for the 13 colonies.

Independence Day

In the year following the Second Continental Congress, the Continental Army and the British went to war, and a motion was introduced to Congress to declare independence. The vote was postponed, but on June 11 of 1776, a committee was created to begin drafting a letter to justify independence from Britain. The draft went through a series of edits by Congress in the following weeks before being finalized – and just in time. Congress officially voted for independence from Britain on July 2, 1776, two days prior to the Declaration of Independence being approved. The vote was nearly unanimous.

Two days later, on July 4, the Continental Congress officially approved and adopted the Declaration of Independence. The document formally declared America’s independence from Britain and thus we became the United States of America.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence

Fourth of July Celebrations

Four days after Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, its contents was read to the public in Philadelphia’s Independence Square. Citizens celebrated with music and bell ringing. These types of celebrations were not new to the colonists who usually observed kings’ birthdays with celebratory bonfires and speeches. With independence from Britain’s royalty, colonists began to use these traditions to instead celebrate America’s independence.

Independence Day celebrations grew in popularity decades later, after Americans once again went to battle with the British in the War of 1812. As the years went on, the day was celebrated with picnics, games, military displays, and of course fireworks. Today, the Fourth of July is a national holiday, reminding us of our country’s history and our freedoms.

While the holiday has become more popularly known for barbecues, picnics, firework shows, and summer parties, it’s important for your child to know why we have the day off from school and work. Knowing the history gives all the more reason to celebrate!

Sources:, PBS, and US


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