This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for July 4, 2017: Song of the Shattering Vessels

July 4, 2017: holiday: Independence Day

It’s Independence Day, the day the United States celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the separation of the original 13 colonies from the British Empire. If you’re a chicken, hide: Americans are expected to barbeque about 700 million pounds of your brethren this year. More than 150 million hot dogs will be consumed, as well.

Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence; everyone else in the room thought he was the most eloquent and the best writer and he offered no dissent. It’s said that John Hancock wrote his name in extra large script so that King George would be sure to see it; the king suffered from cataracts. Fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the document. One out of eight of them had gone to Harvard. Two would go on to become presidents of the United States.

The signing actually took place on July 2, not the 4th, and this fact always irked John Adams, who decided to protest the date of the new celebration by never, not once, attending a July Fourth celebration as long as he lived.

On July 18, 1776, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia, in Independence Square. Bells were rung and a band played music. Congress established the day as a national holiday in 1870. It became a federal holiday in 1938.

About the signing of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be … the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

By 1777, Bristol, Rhode Island, had decided to annually commemorate the day by firing 13 gunshots in the morning, and 13 at night. In 1778, George Washington celebrated the day by giving his soldiers double rations of rum. The White House held its first official Independence Day celebration in 1801.

And even though he protested the event, John Adams wrote movingly to his wife, Abigail: “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.”