This week my travels find me in Northern California, working with our teams across the country – and world – while preparing for the Fourth of July. As a student of history and its finest leaders, July 4th is my favorite time of year. I spend the day grilling with my family and at night, we watch brilliant fireworks light up the summer sky.
Though Independence Day wasn’t declared a federal holiday until 1941, it’s been celebrated since the American Revolution. (Massachusetts was the first state to make it a state holiday in 1781.) But let’s step back in time to June 1776 …
What was life like in 1776? Well, many of the 13 colonies had been in existence for more than 150 years. A strong, middle-class economy was developing, made up of farmers, artisans, lawyers and tradesmen. People traveled by horse-drawn carriages, food was cooked over wood-burning fires and news spread by way of the newspaper, which experienced delays and difficulties due to lack of paper and a poor mail delivery service that sometimes didn’t deliver the papers at all. Despite troubles in the free press, freedom was the prevailing solution, everyone’s Wildly Important Goal. In 1776, the American Revolution was well underway (it began at Lexington and Concord in April 1775) and the hunger for independence burned brightly in colonists’ hearts and minds.
On June 7 of that year, the Continental Congress assembled at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. It was on that historic day that delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion for the colonies’ independence from Great Britain. Intense debate ensued and on July 2, 1776, Congress finally voted in favor of Lee’s resolution in an almost-unanimous decision.
That day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and said July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Two days later, the Declaration of Independence, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, was approved by Congress. (As a note on the importance of thoroughness, the document had been through 86 revisions prior to its approval.) When printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were circulated throughout a newly independent United States of America, the date on each copy read July 4.
Therefore, the official date marked on the Declaration of Independence, July 4 – and not July 2 – became known as Independence Day. People would gather to hear the document read aloud, live music would reverberate throughout the streets and sparklers were thrown in patriotic celebration.
So, what’s the message? On one hand we’re celebrating America’s independence each July Fourth but on another, we’re commemorating a brilliant team, the Founding Fathers, master leaders whose collective wisdom helped bring about widespread, lasting change. It’s no small feat and one we should pay homage to as we watch the fireworks tonight, recalling that on this day in 1776, Congress agreed upon the self-evident truths that would ultimately – and forever – set us free.