Independence Day commemorates the legal separation of the original thirteen colonies from Great Britain. The actual separation occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve The Resolution for Independency (aka the “Lee Resolution”). That Resolution, approved about a year after the start of the American Revolutionary War, declared the independence of the United States from the oppressive rule and tyranny of Great Britain.
After the vote for independence on July 2, Congress spent the next two days working on the Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson had drafted the previous month. The Declaration explained the reasons for separating from Britain. It states that when a government does not protect the rights of citizens, the people have the right and duty to form a new government. The Declaration explained how King George III had tried to take away the rights of the American colonists, including the right to a fair judicial system, right to trial by jury, and right to free trade and self-government. It shows that the colonies therefore had no choice but to separate from Britain in order to protect the colonists’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
After debate and revisions, Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. A fancy handwritten copy of the final document was prepared for signing. That copy was signed by most of the congressional delegates on August 2, 1776. The signed copy was published and widely distributed to the public. Because the published copy contained the date of approval—July 4, 1776—that date became the one associated with our independence from Britain. At first, the 4th of July was not widely celebrated, but Independence Day eventually become a national holiday in 1870.