The 4th of July does not rank at the top of our list of most widely celebrated holidays, but it seems to consistently come in at third or fourth place. Unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is not a family holiday, but as a national one, I wouldn't mind putting it at #1.
As a holiday, it encompasses our most treasured freedoms: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have myriad ideas of and laws about what those mean, but they all revolve around the ideal that a people can choose the leaders that govern them.
You can find many sources online that discuss the history surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but here are a few tidbits that I have gleaned for you:
---The resolution for American independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. John Adams wrote to his wife that "The 2nd day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated in succeeding generations as the great American festival."
---On July 4th, 1776, Congress voted for the revised wording of the Declaration. That date appears on the document, hence, that is the date we celebrate.
---Although Jefferson gets credit for writing the document, several other contributed. John Adams of Mass. wrote the Preamble; Richard Henry Lee of Virginia wrote "Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states . . ."
---The Congress almost dissolved at one point when several colonies objected to a statement that Jefferson had included that attacked slavery.
---Caesar Rodney rode 80 miles from Delaware to break the deadlock in voting, on July 2.
---John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th anniversary of the signing, July 4, 1826. (Fourth President James Monroe, who studied law under Jefferson, died on July 4, 1831)
---President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4th.
---In 1941, July 4th became a national holiday.
---The Chinese invented fireworks.
---Hot dogs rank as the #1 food for the holiday (approx. 150 million will be consumed), followed by hamburgers and cupcakes (especially if colored red, white, and blue).
When I taught junior American Literature, the textbook contained a copy of the full Declaration of Independence. It included other American historical documents, too, but I generally skipped them (what were they teaching across the building in American history, anyway?)
However, the Declaration caught my attention, because I had never seen the original version. This one underlined areas (sometimes large swathes) that ended up deleted and included words and passages that were changed or reworded for the revision.
I found it quite interesting. To ramp it up a bit for my students, I ended the lesson with generous portions of the movie 1776 (some of it fictionalized, of course), which dealt with arguments, disagreements, and compromises that went into the final version.
I have many wonderful memories of celebrating the holiday in the community where I grew up. Those celebrations covered three or four days; today that community has expanded the festivities to a week.
I wish I could go back. But except for the firework display over the lake, I know my childhood memories would be only a shadow of the holiday celebrated there today.
Sadly, in growing up here, my own children don't have memories of festive 4th of July celebrations.
They have a few of the holiday spent at their grandmother's in Florida, but nothing consistent like mine were.
We are fortunate now, though, that London provides several memorable events. The Community Orchestra inspires us with a great patriotic concert the Saturday before the holiday. The city sponsors a festival highlighted by their fireworks show. And what could be a better ending for the day? A day that sparked the fireworks of revolution and American independence.
I hope that you celebrate the day with picnics, or cook-outs, or a day on the lake, or whatever provides memories for you and those you love.
But don't forget the fireworks!