Celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks goes back to John Adams, 1777, and the first anniversary of our freedom as a nation. But John Adams did not want the anniversary of our independence to be held on July 4th. He believed we should celebrate on July 2nd.
On June 7, 1776, the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia where Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for independence. There was a heated debate and a vote was postponed. A five-man committee was appointed to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), and Robert R Livingston (New York).
The vote was held on July 2nd and was near-unanimous in favor of independence. New York originally abstained but later voted in favor. That same day John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2nd “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and would include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
The Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson, was signed on July 4th, 1776. Even though the actual vote for independence was held on the 2nd, from that day forward July 4th became known as the birthday of an independent America. John Adams would refuse all invitations to celebrate on the 4th.
It had been a tradition in the colonies to hold annual celebrations of the king’s birth, celebrations that included ringing bells, bonfires, processions and speeches. However, in the summer of 1776 the celebration of the king’s birth changed to a mock funeral for King George III to symbolize the death of his hold over the colonies. The first of many annual celebrations of our independence was held on July 4, 1777. In 1778, George Washington ordered double rations of rum for all his soldiers and in 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
Celebrations gradually spread to many of the large cities and after the War of 1812, when we again faced Great Britain in battle, celebrations became even more widespread. In 1870 the US Congress made the day a federal holiday, and in 1941 it was expanded to be a paid holiday for federal employees.
But no matter where it was celebrated, the 4th of July has always included lots of noise, food and drink, and, whenever possible, fireworks. As a child I loved sparklers. A metal stick coated with a burning substance that, when lit, shot off white sparks and made a sizzling noise until it burned itself out at the bottom…much too soon. Our town’s fireworks were always held the Sunday after the 4th as a way to close-out the Firemen’s Picnic, an annual carnival to raise money for the local volunteer fire department. Every town had one. You could go to a different one almost every weekend, if you wanted.
This year my husband and I will be celebrating at our cabin. Last year Laona’s fireworks were better than almost any we’d ever seen, with the exception of the year we were in Washington DC. All the small northern communities in the area pooled their resources and the display went on far longer than any other. I’m hoping they’ll out do themselves this year.
(Historical facts from history.com.)