When you think of American independence, you may think of George Washington, fireworks, and large celebrations. But did you know that the 4th wasn’t always a national holiday? Or that some of the founding fathers thought the 4th of July should be on the 2nd of July instead?
There are quite a few misconceptions around American Independence Day. These interesting facts about 4th of July will clear up some of the most commonly believed ones. Hopefully, they’ll also teach you some things that you might not have known.
From fascinating facts about the Declaration of Independence to the foods and drink most consumed on the 4th of July, this list might help you gain a new appreciation for this popular American holiday.
Despite what is widely believed by many, America didn’t declare its independence from Britain on the 4th of July. The Continental Congress held the official vote for independence on July 2, 1776, two days earlier.
The papers were then published and dated July 4th, which is why this is the date given credit.
The second President of the United States, John Adams, thought July 2 would be the date American independence would be celebrated.
He wrote a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, stating, “The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the history of America”. Adams went on to say, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary festival.”
Only two men, John Hancock and Charles Thompson signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The rest of the delegates from the 13 colonies signed it about a month later, on August 2, 1776.
John Hancock made the first and largest signature. If you’ve ever heard the term “sign your John Hancock” when someone asks you to sign something, this is where the phrase comes from.
When the news of America’s Declaration of Independence against the British reached civilians, riots against King George III broke out. The colonists of Philadelphia pulled the King’s coat of arms down from the State House and burned it.
In Manhattan’s Bowling Green district, citizens and military personnel melted a statue of King George III for musket balls.
Signing the Declaration of Independence was probably not as celebratory of an occasion as we may envision today. Every man who put his signature down was fully aware that they were committing an act of high treason against the British Crown.
One of the signers, Benjamin Rush, described the mood of the room on that day as having a “pensive and awful silence”. He remarked that many men believed they were singing their own death warrants.
44 or 45 was the average age of the 56 men that signed the Declaration of Independence. The youngest signers were Edward Rutledge and Thomas Lynch Jr; both men were 26. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer, at 70 years old. This makes the average age about 44 or 45.
Richard Stockton of New Jersey is the only person to have signed the Declaration of Independence and then later recant his support. This was the result of Stockton’s capture and imprisonment by the British. After he was beaten, starved, and made to suffer other harsh treatment, he renounced his signature and instead swore allegiance to King George III.
However, when Stockton eventually gained his freedom back, he re-avowed his loyalty to the United States.
Thomas Jefferson usually gets sole credit for writing the Declaration of Independence, but other men aided in the outcome of the final document. A committee of five men was tasked with creating a formal statement laying out the 13 colonies’ reasons for separating from Great Britain.
Although Jefferson was the principal author, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were also part of the committee.
Despite what the movie “National Treasure,” starring Nicholas Cage, might have you think, there isn’t a treasure map from the founding fathers on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
There’s a simple message, written upside-down that states: “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.”
It’s not known who penned the message or when. It’s thought that it was written during the American Revolutionary War years when the parchment had to be continually rolled up and moved for safe transport.
Founding Father John Adams is often given credit for fireworks being associated with American Independence Day. In a letter to his wife, he proposed that “illuminations” be part of the celebrations.
Fireworks being lit off to mark celebrations had been popular for centuries. King Henry VII of England included them in his wedding ceremony in 1486.
Fireworks aren’t a modern spectacle. The very first anniversary of American Independence Day, which took place in Philadelphia in 1777, featured 13 fireworks shot into the sky. This was to honor America’s 13 colonies.
It’s believed that the Great Fire of 1866, in Portland, Maine, was the result of the 4th of July fireworks. The firecrackers were lit off during the first 4th of July celebration following the Civil War. At the time, it was the biggest fire any American city had experienced.
It started on Commercial Street in a boathouse before spreading to a lumber yard and then across the city. About 1,800 buildings (including all of the city’s banks and the new City Hall) burned to the ground. The fire killed two people and left about 10,000 people without homes.
One of the eeriest facts about the 4th of July is that three US presidents and founding fathers died on the 4th of July.
On the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, in 1826, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died. They passed away just hours apart from each other. Adams passed away at the age of 90 at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Jefferson died at the age of 83 at his home in Monticello, Virginia. Both men had been ill for quite some time, but there’s no denying the strange coincidence.
Five years later, the 5th President of the United States, James Monroe, passed away. He died on July 4, 1831, from heart failure and tuberculosis. He was 73 years old.
While three US Presidents have passed away on the 4th of July, one US President was born on the 4th of July. Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Coolidge was the 30th President.
The son of a village storekeeper, he methodically worked his way up the political ladder. Although he was a popular president, he only served one term; he chose not to run for reelection.
Of course, George Washington observed American Independence Day. During the Revolutionary War, Washington celebrated the 4th of July by treating his soldiers to double their usual rations of rum.
It seems the White House was a little late to the party. It wasn’t until 1801 that the presidential mansion hosted an official Independence Day party. Thomas Jefferson was the President in office at the time.
The first 4th of July celebration included a performance by the United States Marine Band, as well as horse races, parades, and plenty of food and drinks.
The state of Massachusetts made the 4th of July an official state holiday in 1781. However, it wasn’t until 1870 that congress declared the 4th of July a national holiday. Then, it wasn’t until 1941 that the day became a paid holiday for all federal employees.
One of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City paid tribute to American Independence in a meaningful way. Its height was exactly 1,776 feet tall. This, of course, represented the year 1776, when the US Declaration of Independence was signed.
America’s drink of choice on July 4th is usually beer. This US holiday sees beer sales skyrocket. After the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are the next two public holidays with high beer consumption.
Each 4th of July, it’s estimated that Americans eat about 150 million hot dogs. What goes better with beer than a barbeque, after all? A little bonus fact is that the month of July is also National Hot Dog Month in the US.
Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest is America’s most popular competitive eating competition. The date the contest was founded is a bit debated, especially because it wasn’t a popular event at the beginning. But it’s believed it started around 1916.
The contest began to gain more popularity in 1972. And since then, it’s been held most years at Nathan’s Famous Corporation’s original, in Coney Island, New York.
In 2021, Joey Chestnut won the competition. He ate 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes, beating his record from the year earlier of eating 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
While most Americans enjoy hot dogs on the 4th of July, people that live in New England prefer salmon and peas. This tradition began as a coincidence. In the middle of summer, the rivers were abundant with salmon. Peas also began to ripen in late June. The two items made a flavorful match.
It’s also popular to add new potatoes to this dish, topped with a generous serving of egg sauce.
The town of Bristol, Rhode Island, continues to host the nation’s oldest 4th of July parade.
It’s held an annual 4th of July celebration since 1785. It was established by Rev. Henry Wight, a Veteran of the American Revolutionary War.
The celebration kicks off on Flag Day, which is another American holiday that takes place on June 14 each year. From there, local events continue in the lead-up to the town’s Independence Day Parade, which stretches for about 2.5 miles across the town.
Because of these celebrations, Bristol has earned the nickname of “America’s most patriotic town”.
The US did not officially perform its first census survey until 1790. However, it’s estimated that at the time of America’s independence, the population in the 13 colonies was around 2.5 million.
That’s compared to the 2022 US population of about 332 million, according to the US Census Bureau.
Of the 13 colonies, Pennsylvania was estimated to have the highest population of about 434,373 people. Delaware was the colony with the lowest estimated population, with only about 59,094 people.
The United States isn’t the only country that celebrated its independence on July 4th. The Philippines gained independence from the US on July 4, 1946, after signing the Treaty of Manila. The country observed July 4th as the day they officially separated from a colonizing nation, which in this case, was the US.
However, in 1962, they decided to celebrate their independence from Spain instead, which happened in 1898. This made June 12 the Philippines’ new Independence Day.
They kept July 4th as a public holiday and made it Philippine Republic Day, also called Philippine–American Friendship Day.
The US Flag Code was established in 1942. It set guidelines on how the American flag should be used and displayed.
One guideline warns against the flag being used as a form of apparel. These guidelines, however, are not enforceable. Good thing, since the fashion industry puts out a lot of American flag-themed clothing items, especially for the 4th of July.
It’s hard to picture a 4th of July parade without ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ being played. However, this poem, written by Francis Scott Key, wasn’t penned until September 14, 1814.
And, it wasn’t until 1931 that it became America’s National Anthem.
The song was written by Key in response to watching the British failed attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The poem was initially called “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
The Statue of Liberty, officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World” is an iconic symbol of freedom. It was a gift to the US from the French that honored the two countries’ alliance during the American Revolutionary War.
The tablet that Lady Liberty is holding has the date July 4, 1776, inscribed in Roman numerals.
Every 4th of July, descendants of the Declaration of Independence signers symbolically tap the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia 13 times. This is to honor the patriots of America’s 13 original colonies. The bell is also tapped in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
If you’re wondering why the bell is tapped rather than rung, it’s because the bell dates back to 1751. It’s very old and suffered a large crack the last time it was rung in 1846.
This 4th of July, crack open a beer, fire up the barbeque for some hot dogs (or salmon) and light off some fireworks. And don’t forget to impress your friends with these interesting facts about 4th of July.
From misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence to bizarre coincidences regarding Presidential deaths and fun facts about celebrations, hopefully, you’ve learned something new about this special American holiday.