‘Declaration of Independence’ painting by John Trumbull. It has been in the US Capitol Rotunda since 1826.

With the United States celebrating its birthday, many of you will spend the day doing such patriotic things as grilling, drinking beer and setting off fireworks while at the same time keeping all your limbs intact. However, there is more to the history and background of this momentus day, as well as several facts that the general American public might not be aware. So as GN’s self-appointed Professor of History, I’m here to impart some of that to you.

What most Americans don’t realize is that July 4th is not the actual day of founding for the United States. Technically it happened on July 2nd, 1776 when the Second Continental Congress held a vote that approved a ‘resolution of independence’  to legally seperate itself from Great Britain, which is commonly called the Lee Resolution after Richard Henry Lee of Virginia who originally proposed it. Two days later on July 4th, the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, which was a statement explaining their reasoning their seperation from their former mother country. Founding Father and future president John Adams declared that July 2nd would be a grand annual festival of celebration. Whoops. Even from the start the new nation’s birthday was celebrated on the 4th, perhaps due to the Declaration being a more a ground-breaking document. There’s even some debate among historians as to whether it was actually signed on July 4th, with August 2nd being put forth as the actual date.

In one of those significant coincidences in history,  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration, July 4th 1826. President James Monroe also passes away on the 4th in 1831. The 30th President Calvin Coolidge is the only one so far to have been born on the birthday of the country he led.

Though The 4th didn’t become an official holiday until much later in the country’s history, that didn’t stop Americans from celebrating in different ways. In 1777, when infant America turned 1, Bristol, Rhode Island marked the occasion with 13 gun salutes in the morning and evening. Bristol has held the longest continuous festivities, starting way back in 1785. Philadelphia went all out with dinners, toasts, sppeches, fireworks and decorations. Next year in 1778, General George Washington gave his soldiers a double ration of rum in celebration. Interestingly enough, 1791 was the first recorded use of the term ‘Independence Day’. Those were the early commemorations and they got bigger and grander as time went on.

Despite July 4th’s status as America’s birthday, other notable events have occured on this day:
1054: the Crab Nebula, the brightest supernova recorded, starts burning.
1415: Gregory XII resigns as Pope amid the Great Schism.
1802: The US Military Academy at West Point opens
1894: Republic of Hawaii is proclaimed
1916: First Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, New York
1919: Jack Dempsey KOs Jess Willard in Cuba for the heavyweight title
1944: 1,100 US guns fire a 4th of July salute in Normandy…at the German lines no less
1980: Nolan Ryan records his 3000th strikeout, the 4th pitcher in history to do so
1996: The email service HotMail begins

This has been only a small portion of the history behind the birthday of our nation and events that have occured on July 4th, but I hope you find it informative. Remember to go have fun and enjoy yourselves today.