John Adams—the first vice president of the United States and the second president—was among the first to predict the Independence Day celebrations Americans have commemorated for 238 years.
A lawyer, Adams was one of the members of the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. He wrote to his wife, Abigail, that “I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival … it ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”
Events leading up to our Independence Day celebrations began in the mid-1700s when 13 colonies were under the rule of England’s King George III. Colonists were upset that they paid taxes to England, even though they had no representation in the English Parliament. (That’s where the phrase “Taxation without representation” came from.) In 1774, the colonies sent delegates to Philadelphia to form the First Continental Congress and the following year formed the Second Continental Congress. The colonists spent two years trying to work out their differences without having to declare war.
In June of 1776, a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson was formed to compose a formal declaration of independence. Independence Day, or July Fourth, commemorates the signing of that document, the Declaration of Independence, by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. Since then, July Fourth has marked the day that the United States established itself as a nation.
The first holiday celebrations in locations across the East Coast occurred shortly after the Fourth of July. Much of the celebratory spectacle we see today was evident from the start. In 1776, many cities held public readings of the declaration. Things stepped up a notch in Philadelphia the following year, with an organized celebration featuring a dinner, ringing bells, music, toasts, parades and fireworks.
In the spirit of the holiday, march in a parade, host a barbecue or take in some fireworks.