Americans have long celebrated Independence Day on the 4th of July, but did you know that the Thirteen Colonies actually voted to become a new nation on July 2, 1776?
Future President John Adams was convinced that July 2 would be “celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” with “pomp and parade, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”
So, why do we celebrate on the 4th of July instead? Even though the vote passed on July 2, it took the Continental Congress two more days to finalize the language in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence arrived at the printer on July 4, 1776, which is why that date appears at the top. Believe it or not, the majority of the delegates actually did not sign the document until August!
It took days for the prints of the Declaration of Independence to travel from Philadelphia to other cities and towns. The news did not reach Boston until July 18, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed from the balcony of the Old State House. Later that day, jubilant crowds of Bostonians pulled down the rooftop lion and unicorn statues, symbols of royal authority, and burned them in a bonfire. After the American Revolution, the Old State House served as the seat of the new Massachusetts state government. Eventually, a new State House was built on Beacon Hill and the statues were restored.
John Adams might be surprised to learn that Americans celebrate on the 4th of July today. Coincidentally, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, further enshrining the 4th of July in American history.
Independence Day was not designated as a federal holiday until 1941. But from 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence. Typical 4th of July festivities include fireworks, parades, concerts, family gatherings, and barbecues.
This 4th of July in Boston, you can enjoy the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, check out a Boston Harborfest event, or catch a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House! Whichever way you choose to celebrate on the 4th, remember that July 2 and July 18 are cause for celebration too.
As a reminder, all Boston Public Library locations will be closed on July 4 in observance of Independence Day.
That being said, you can access lots of great historical images from the Boston Public Library’s collection year-round online here. If you are interested in learning more about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s intertwined legacies, check out Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood or Agony and Eloquence: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and A World of Revolution by Daniel L. Mallock.