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Our Nation on its Birthday: July 4th Highlights


John Adams, America’s second president, was well known for his love of Independence Day. Until the day he died, however, he also felt we had set the date two days late. Adams wrote that July 2, the date the Second Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Britain, not July 4, the date Congress’ president John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, should be “the great anniversary Festival.”

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America,” Adams wrote on July 3, 1776. “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

1826 and 1831

Three of America’s first five presidents died on Independence Day. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were bitter political rivals during much of their public life though they reconciled through written correspondence as they grew older. Ironically, they both died 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, within hours of each other.

James Monroe also died on July 4, five years after Adams and Jefferson in 1831.


After a long siege, 15 miles of trenches, countless battles, and near-constant bombing, Confederate Gen. John Pemberton surrendered to Union forces at Vicksburg, Miss. The Confederates of Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. Although the South did not surrender for another two years, that surrender marked a turning point in the Civil War.

The town of Vicksburg would not celebrate the Fourth of July again until 81 years later in 1944.


Despite the widespread celebrations that had been ringing in America’s birthday since the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Congress did not make the Fourth of July an official holiday until 100 years after the event remembered on that day.

Boston became the first city to designate the Fourth a city-wide holiday in 1783. That same year Gov. Alexander Martin issued a state order making North Carolina the first state to officially celebrate U.S. independence on July 4.


The United States got what may be the country’s largest physical birthday present on July 4, 1884, when the French presented it with the Statue of Liberty. It took four months to assemble the 151-foot-tall statue, which was shipped from Paris in hundreds of pieces.

While the statue was intended to commemorate America’s centennial, it was not formally dedicated until 10 years after the fact, when President Grover Cleveland held a Statue of Liberty ceremony on October 25, 1886.


It may be America’s birthday, but the United States isn’t the only country that celebrates it. Denmark started throwing a Fourth of July bash in 1912 after numerous Danes immigrated to the United States. Thousands of Danish Americans and U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe celebrate Independence Day at the annual outdoor festival in Rebild, Denmark. The Danish tourism office bills it as the largest Fourth of July celebration outside the United States. Former presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have been keynote speakers at the celebration, as have other famous Americans like Walter Cronkite and Walt Disney.


Congress declared July 4th an official federal holiday in 1870, but it was another 70 years before it gave federal employees a paid day off.


Congress passed a bill declaring the 21 days between Flag Day and Independence Day as “Honor America Days,” encouraging Americans to celebrate their country for nearly a solid month.

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