Independence Day, or July 4, is when we celebrate separating our country from England and becoming a new nation. It has been a federal holiday since 1941 and is usually celebrated with fireworks, barbecues, and water activities. But how did this day come to be, and who were the instrumental people behind declaring the U.S. a sovereign nation unto itself?
When the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, the idea of becoming independent from Great Britain was not a popular one. In fact, those who petitioned for it were considered radical. However, a year before, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” in which he suggested that the colonies were only tied to the King of England by voluntary loyalty. It was published, without his permission, in a pamphlet that gained in popularity – and would eventually lead to him being asked to draft the Declaration of Independence. Within a year, more colonists favored separating from England, and soon each of the colonies sent a delegate to discuss the possibility. Because of Jefferson’s growing popularity, Virginia sent him to represent them.
On June 7, 1776, the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House, later called the Independence Hall. Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate, introduced a motion that called for the colonies’ independence. Known as the Lee Resolution, it was the first draft of its kind calling for independence from the British Empire.
Jefferson was chosen to write the proposal, but he was hesitant and preferred that John Adams have the duty. However, in the end, he agreed. It took 17 days to write the draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve Lee’s resolution for independence. Adams sent a letter to his wife Abigail, saying that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” On July 4, the committee formally adopted the Declaration of Independence.
All 13 delegates from the 13 colonies signed the legislation. John Hancock was the first to sign and did so on July 4. Most of the other delegates signed on August 2, and the last person to affix his signature was Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who endorsed it on November 4.