History of Independence Day In April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were regarded as radicals. After growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments like those expressed in Thomas Paine's bestselling pamphlet "Common Sense," published in early 1776, many colonists supported independence by the middle of the following year. In Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence Hall), the Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for independence for the colonies. Congress postponed Lee's resolution during heated debate, but appointed a committee of five men — Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York — to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. According to reports, John Adams rejected invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest because he believed July 2nd was the right date to commemorate the birth of American independence. On July 4, 1826—50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted—both Adams and Jefferson died. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee's resolution for independence in a near-unanimous vote (New York abstained initially, but later voted affirmatively). John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 would become the great anniversary festival for future generations, and the celebration would include “Pomp and Parade...Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” As a result of Jefferson's contribution to the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress adopted it on July 4th. The actual vote for independence took place on July 2nd, but from then on the 4th was regarded as the birth of American independence. Early Fourth of July Celebrations and Traditions It was customary for colonists to celebrate the king's birthday every year by ringing bells, setting bonfires, organizing processions, and making speeches before the Revolution. As a way of symbolizing the end of monarchy and the triumph of freedom, some colonists held mock funerals for King George III during the summer of 1776 to celebrate the birth of independence. After the Declaration of Independence was adopted, the first public readings were usually accompanied by concerts, bonfires, parades, and cannon and musket firings. As Congress was still engaged in the ongoing war, Philadelphia held its first annual celebration of independence on July 4, 1777. To mark the anniversary of independence in 1778, George Washington provided double rations of rum to all his soldiers, and in 1781, a few months before the key American victory at Yorktown, Massachusetts declared July 4th a state holiday. Americans continued to celebrate Independence Day every year after the Revolutionary War, during which emerging political leaders addressed citizens and created a sense of unity among them. In many large cities, the two major political parties—the Federalist Party and Democratic-Republicans—had begun holding separate Fourth of July celebrations by the end of the 18th century. Fourth of July Fireworks Fireworks have been used since 200 BC and our 4th of July tradition began with the first organized celebration in Philadelphia in 1777. Fittingly, a 13-gun salute was fired by ships to represent the 13 colonies. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported on the grand exhibition of fireworks that illuminated the city. Boston Common saw their own fireworks display that evening, thanks to the Sons of Liberty. Fourth of July Becomes a Federal Holiday As a result of the War of 1812, during which the United States faced Great Britain again, the tradition of patriotic celebrations became even more widespread. The U.S. Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday in 1870; the provision was extended to all federal employees in 1941. Independence Day remained a symbol of patriotism and an important national holiday over the years despite its decline in political importance. Since the late 19th century, the Fourth of July has become a major leisure activity and an occasion for family reunions, often involving fireworks and barbecues, because it falls in midsummer. The American flag is the most commonly associated symbol of the holiday, and the national anthem of the United States is often played to accompany it.