The second 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 by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Adams's prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.
Historians have long disputed whether members of Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, even though Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all later wrote that they had signed it on that day. Most historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed.
By a remarkable coincidence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two signatories of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as presidents of the United States, both died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration, Jefferson even mentioning the fact. Although not a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, James Monroe, another Founding Father who was elected president, also died on July 4, 1831, making him the third President who died on the anniversary of independence. The only U.S. president to have been born on Independence Day was Calvin Coolidge, who was born on July 4, 1872.
In 1777, thirteen gunshots were fired in salute, once at morning and once again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, Rhode Island. An article in the July 18, 1777 issue of The Virginia Gazette noted a celebration in Philadelphia in a manner a modern American would find familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships in port were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.
In 1783, Salem, North Carolina, held a celebration with a challenging music program assembled by Johann Friedrich Peter entitled The Psalm of Joy. The town claims it to be the first public July 4 event, as it was carefully documented by the Moravian Church, and there are no government records of any earlier celebrations.
In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
In 1938, Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday.
An 1825 invitation to an Independence Day celebration
Independence Day is a national holiday marked by patriotic displays. Per 5 U.S.C.§ 6103, Independence Day is a federal holiday, so all non-essential federal institutions (such as the postal service and federal courts) are closed on that day. While the legal holiday remains on July 4, if that date happens to be on a Saturday or Sunday, then federal government employees will instead take the day off on the adjacent Friday or Monday, respectively.
Families often celebrate Independence Day by hosting or attending a picnic or barbecue; many take advantage of the day off and, in some years, a long weekend to gather with relatives or friends. Decorations (e.g., streamers, balloons, and clothing) are generally colored red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag. Parades are often held in the morning, before family get-togethers, while fireworks displays occur in the evening after dark at such places as parks, sporting venues, fairgrounds, public shorelines, or town squares.
The night before the Fourth was once the focal point of celebrations, marked by raucous gatherings often incorporating bonfires as their centerpiece. In New England, towns competed to build towering pyramids, assembled from barrels and casks. They were lit at nightfall to usher in the celebration. The highest were in Salem, Massachusetts, with pyramids composed of as many as forty tiers of barrels. These made the tallest bonfires ever recorded. The custom flourished in the 19th and 20th centuries and is still practiced in some New England towns.
Firework shows are held in many states, and many fireworks are sold for personal use or as an alternative to a public show. Safety concerns have led some states to ban fireworks or limit the sizes and types allowed. In addition, local and regional conditions may dictate whether the sale or use of fireworks in an area will be allowed; for example, the global supply chain crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellations of shows. Some local or regional firework sales are limited or prohibited because of dry weather or other specific concerns. On these occasions the public may be prohibited from purchasing or discharging fireworks, but professional displays (such as those at sports events) may still take place.
A salute of one gun for each state in the United States, called a "salute to the union," is fired on Independence Day at noon by any capable military base.
The first week of July is typically one of the busiest United States travel periods of the year, as many people use what is often a three-day holiday weekend for extended vacation trips.
Patriotic trailer shown in theaters celebrating July 4, 1940
Fireworks over the National Mall in Washington, D.C. every July 4 are preceded by a concert known as A Capitol Fourth, which takes place outside the U.S. Capitol and is televised on the American public television network PBS.
Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, this is one of several versions of a scene painted by A. M. Willard that came to be known as The Spirit of '76. Often imitated or parodied, it is a familiar symbol of American patriotism
The 2019 Independence Day parade in Washington, D.C.
Since 1868, Seward, Nebraska, has held a celebration on the same town square. In 1979 Seward was designated "America's Official Fourth of July City-Small Town USA" by resolution of Congress. Seward has also been proclaimed "Nebraska's Official Fourth of July City" by Governor J. James Exon in proclamation. Seward is a town of 6,000 but swells to 40,000+ during the July 4 celebrations.
Since 1912, the Rebild Society, a Danish-American friendship organization, has held a July 4 weekend festival that serves as a homecoming for Danish-Americans in the Rebild Hills of Denmark.
The famous Macy's fireworks display usually held over the East River in New York City has been televised nationwide on NBC, and locally on WNBC-TV since 1976. In 2009, the fireworks display was returned to the Hudson River for the first time since 2000 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's exploration of that river.
The Boston Pops Orchestra has hosted a music and fireworks show over the Charles River Esplanade called the "Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular" annually since 1974. Canons are traditionally fired during the 1812 Overture. The event was broadcast nationally from 1991 until 2002 on A&E, and since 2002 by CBS and its Boston station WBZ-TV. WBZ/1030 and WBZ-TV broadcast the entire event locally, and from 2002 through 2012, CBS broadcast the final hour of the concert nationally in primetime. The national broadcast was put on hiatus beginning in 2013, which Pops executive producer David G. Mugar believed was the result of decreasing viewership caused by NBC's encore presentation of the Macy's fireworks. The national broadcast was revived for 2016, and expanded to two hours. In 2017, Bloomberg Television took over coverage duty, with WHDH carrying local coverage beginning in 2018.
The Philippines celebrates July 4 as its Republic Day to commemorate the day in 1946 when it ceased to be a U.S. territory and the United States officially recognized Philippine Independence.
July 4 was intentionally chosen by the United States because it corresponds to its Independence Day, and this day was observed in the Philippines as Independence Day until 1962. In 1964, the name of the July 4 holiday was changed to Republic Day.
^"Federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103) establishes the public holidays . . . for Federal employees. Please note that most Federal employees work on a Monday through Friday schedule. For these employees, when a holiday falls on a nonworkday -- Saturday or Sunday -- the holiday usually is observed on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday)." "Federal Holidays". U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
^Staff writer (July 1, 1917). "How Declaration of Independence was Drafted"(PDF). The New York Times. Archived(PDF) from the original on July 4, 2020. Retrieved November 20, 2009. On the following day, when the formal vote of Congress was taken, the resolutions were approved by twelve Colonies–all except New York. The original Colonies, therefore, became the United States of America on July 2, 1776.