On one special summer night in America, kids and their families gather every year to play games, cook hot dogs and burgers, watch parades, and set off colorful, loud fireworks in the sky. Families might even go fishing together or have a big dinner with the rest of the neighborhood. Americans might celebrate differently according to where they live, but every July 4th, the entire country celebrates. It may seem like just a fun excuse to cook on the grill and set off fireworks, but the Fourth of July actually has a special meaning for Americans.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Way back in 1776, America wasn't America yet. There were 13 colonies (kind of like states) that had been started by Great Britain, and these colonies still belonged to Britain. However, the colonists began to feel like they had been mistreated by Britain. The colonists had no political voice in Great Britain, no way of getting their thoughts and opinions listened to by the king, but they had to pay money to Great Britain and even had to let British soldiers stay for free in their homes (and feed them, too). This would be like if a bully started taking a student's lunch money but the bully was a classroom leader. It would be very difficult to accuse the bully, who a lot of people like and trust, of being, well, a bully! The colonists felt the same way about Great Britain.
When Great Britain passed yet another law demanding more tax money, the colonists decided they had had enough. The colonists formed their own government, which they called the Continental Congress. Representatives from every colony gathered together and talked about what should be done. They didn't want to be part of a country where what they said didn't matter, but it was scary, too, to consider building a new country on their own. Congress talked and talked about it, and finally, on July 2, 1776, Congress decided that the 13 colonies - the United States - should be independent from Great Britain.
The Declaration of Independence was a special letter that had been prepared by Thomas Jefferson, which would be sent to the king of Great Britain to tell him that the colonies were breaking away and to explain their reasons for doing so. Nothing like it had ever been written before. Most of Europe, Great Britain included, was ruled by a king or a royal family. The Declaration of Independence said that all people had certain rights and that all people were of equal value - and that, instead of having a king, Americans would make decisions together as a group. It also made it clear that when the power in charge (in this case, Great Britain) was wrong, then the people had a duty to speak up and take back the rights that had been taken from them. The declaration had to be very carefully worded to make sure that its meaning was clear, and Congress finally approved it on July 4th, 1776.
John Adams, one of the members of Congress and a future president, predicted that July 2nd, the day that the decision to be independent was made, would be a day "with pomp and parade, with shoes, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations." Independence Day ended up being July 4th, since that was the date on the Declaration of Independence itself, but Adams was spot-on in his prediction of what Independence Day festivities would be like! For people in America, the Fourth of July is a reminder of the brave actions of the Continental Congress that led to the creation of the United States of America. It's a reminder to do what is right, no matter how scary it might be, and it's a celebration of those men in 1776 who took the first few steps towards a fairer system of government.
To learn more about the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence, and for some fun Fourth of July activities, check out the links below!
Written By Sophie Pierce.