Celebrating Independence Day

No, not the 1996 Roland Emrich sci-fi film. We’re talking about one of the most sacred holidays in the history of this nation. As someone who’ s been a United States citizen all my life, 4th of July has always just been another holiday happening every year. It exist as the holiday characterized by fireworks, cookouts, hot summer days, and the unrelenting torrent of patriotic symbols. My perception of the holiday has always been: ” this holiday the US celebrates for winning its freedom from the British. ” While that element definitely is the core of the holiday, the traditions and symbols that are synonymous with the holiday have been a progression over time.

President Whitmore giving his iconic speech in the 1996 film “Independence Day”

Defeating the British

A New Nation Declared
The Declaration of Independence signed on July 4th declaring freedom from British rule.

The history of July 4th in the United States traces back to the American Revolution. That day the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from British rule on July 4, 1776. This historic event, known as the Declaration of Independence, became adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The document, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, expressed the colonies’ grievances against King George III asserting their right to self-governance. The signing of the Declaration marked the birth of the United States of America. Since then July 4th marks the day of Independence Day celebration.

A War Filled with Struggle

The war of course wasn’t one that came easily. The British held a military advantage over the colonists. While the colonies did form the Continental Army in 1775. It mainly comprised of unseasoned soldiers who at best had some militia training. Lack of training and scarce supplies and resources became a prevalent thing. This caused the Continental Army many defeats to the General Cornwallis and the British crown. However, they say that every dog has his day, and for the Continental Army, that dog had a few days. One of those days came on September 19, 1777, at the Battle of Saratoga. There, American forces secured a crucial victory. This victory not only boosted morale among the troops. It also gave enough confidence for France to ally with the colonists. This in turn gave the Continental Army much needed military support.

Victory at Last!

Another pivotal moment came September 28, 1781 with the Siege of Yorktown. American and French forces, under the command of General George Washington and General Rochambeau, laid siege to the British army under General Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. The combined American and French troops effectively trapped Cornwallis and his soldiers, forcing them to surrender on October 19, 1781. The British defeat at Yorktown was a decisive blow to their military campaign. It led to negotiations for peace, which ultimately resulted in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, officially recognizing the independence of the United States and marking the end of British rule.

The First Celebration (and Beyond)

While celebrations most likely did pop off shortly after the official defeat of the British to the now United State. The newly established United States celebrated the first Independence Day holiday on July 4th, 1777. One year after the original signing of the Declaration of Independence. Early celebrations included public readings of the Declaration, military parades, and fireworks. In the following decades, July 4th festivities grew in popularity and became an important national holiday.

By the early 19th century, celebrations featured elaborate fireworks displays, patriotic speeches, and various community events. Politicians capitalized on the holiday using it as an occasion for political gatherings and speeches. Often these speeches would be about reinforcing the values of liberty and freedom.

By the late 19th century, July 4th celebrations underwent another transformation with the rise of industrialization and urbanization. Parades, picnics, and outdoor festivities became more common. Communities organized larger events to bring people together. France gifted The Statue of Liberty, to the United States on July 4, 1884. This further solidified the holiday’s association with national symbols and American identity. Over time, July 4th also became an opportunity to honor military veterans and express gratitude for their service well into the modern era.

The War of 1812

While July 4th is mostly connected and associated with the Revolutionary War. There is a lot of its history encompassing the War of 1812 as well. The War of 1812 was a significant conflict between the United States and Great Britain. It lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 17, 1815.

It was primarily driven by several factors. This included American grievances over British imprisonment of American sailors, trade restrictions, and British support of Native American tribes resisting American expansion. In general the War of 1812 often comprised of a number of skirmishes between American and British forces. One very notable battle resulted in the British capture and burning of Washington, D.C. This included the White House and the Capitol, in 1814. As demoralizing as having the capital fall siege to a foreign army may seem. It actually galvanized American forces. In 1815 , General Andrew Jackson led a major decisive victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

Although the War of 1812 ended with no definitive victor. It did solidify the United States’ place in the world as a legitimate nation. This let other superpowers at the time know that indeed, the “United States ain’t noth’n to f**k with. ” The War of 1812 invoked plenty of feelings of both patriotism and nationalism. While observing the bombardment of Fort McHenry, writer Francis Scott Key felt inspired to author “The Defense of Fort M’Henry”. However, that title was mid at best. So FSK later sampled his lyrics with the song “To Anacreon in Heaven” and made “The Star Spangled Banner”. That song turned out to be such a banger that Congress later adopted it in 1931 as the national anthem.

1816 portrait by Paul de Rapin depicting the British burning Washington.

July 4th Today

Example of symbols used in 4th of July

Since the early years of its inception the meaning of July 4th has transcended its original purpose of celebration. Many view the holiday as a time to relax, takes trips with family, and cracking open beers with friends beside a hot grill. For many July 4th is a nice paid day off work and extending the weekend. However, the core of the holiday is still one that is rooted in patriotism. SFK’s 1814 bopper gets national play. Vast swaths of lawns across the US become adorned with red, white, and blue themed symbols. Then at night somewhere in rural America. Just before midnight. A young man will be rushed to the ER with burns and injuries sustained from an improper fireworks discharge fireworks. The pain will be intense. So will the hospital bill. But for freedom, it will be worth it.

Updated on July 3, 2023 by Ken Cheng

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