July 4 1776 was a prominent day in American history, as the 13 colonies successfully claimed their independence from the British Empire.
In what is now known as Independence Day, the US’ most beloved national holiday is celebrated annually on the Fourth of July, with millions of Americans coming together to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of their nation.
From the history behind America’s independence to the modern celebrations, here is everything you need to know.
What is Independence Day?
Independence Day commemorates the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. Introduced by the Second Continental Congress, the statement outlined that the 13 American colonies were united, independent states, who were no longer subject to British monarch.
Recognised annually by Americans, fireworks, parades and other patriotic celebrations are held every year on the Fourth of July to celebrate the colonies breaking free from British control. Although lockdown restrictions have almost fully eased off, many of the usual celebrations or gatherings will have to be adjusted still due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Why did Americans want independence from Britain?
The relationship between the settlers and British had been amicable, however tensions started to escalate over the imposition of British laws and taxes.
To help control settlements in the western territories, King George III introduced the Royal Proclamation of 1763, preventing the colonists settling along the Appalachian Mountains.
After the French and Indian War came to a close, the Quartering Act was passed in 1765, ordering the American colonies to help house the British soldiers.
Also in 1765, Britain then introduced the Stamp Act to help handle war debts; this required colonists to pay a tax on printed paper including newspapers, licenses and playing cards.
Colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711 – 1780) escaping from local rioters after demanding Stamp Tax from them
Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive
Unsurprisingly, the colonists were not pleased. ‘No taxation without representation’ became the cry around 1765 after a rise in Britain’s national debt forced the colonists to raise import tariffs and crack down on smuggling to raise funds.
There was also a growing sense of nationalism in these largely agricultural colonies and acts of American colonial defiance began in the form of rebellions, fighting and protests.
Social unrest escalated further in 1773, when patriots in Boston famously destroyed a shipment of tea by boarding three ships in Boston harbour and throwing 342 chests overboard in protest over the Tea Act. This became known as the ‘Boston Tea Party’.
These rebellions over taxes led to full-scale revolutionary war.
What happened in the Revolutionary War?
Determined to fight for their independence, Great Britain’s 13 North American Colonies fought for control over colonial affairs. They included:
George Washington led the American forces to victory and, thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Thomas Jefferson, France and Spain acted as allies, providing arms for the war.
Independence was formally declared on July 2 1776; on July 4 1776, the final version of the Declaration was approved by Congress, announcing that the 13 colonies were free from British rule.
While the Fourth of July marks the adoption of the Declaration of the Independence, most of the Congress members actually signed the document on August 2, 1776.
Following the Declaration of Independence, they went on to become the United States of America – however conflict continued up until 1783.
How is the day celebrated in the US?
In what was a simple but powerful mark of respect to each of the colonies, 13 gunshots were fired as part of the first celebration of independence on July 4 1777, a year after the Declaration of Independence was approved.
George Washington commemorated the Fourth of July the following year in 1778 by ordering a double ration of rum for his soldiers at Ross Hall, near New Jersey. Meanwhile outside the US, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams organised a celebratory dinner for Americans in Paris.
The Fourth of July was officially acknowledged as a state celebration by the Massachusetts General Court in 1781, and Moravians in North Carolina, observed the day with The Psalm of Joy music programme in 1783.
Nearly 100 years on from the Declaration’s approval, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees in 1870, and it was later established as a paid holiday by US Congress in 1938.
Nowadays it’s typically marked by patriotic activities – usually outside.
Think parades, camping, barbecues, beers and fireworks, with as much red, white and blue as possible – all punctuated with a backing track of "Star spangled banner", "Yankee Doodle" and "God Bless America".
Politicians also like to make a point of appearing at Independence Day celebrations and praising the nation’s heritage, history and people.
Who celebrates it apart from Americans?
The Philippines and Rwanda also observe Fourth of July anniversaries for their own reasons.
The US gave the Philippines independence on that day in 1946 and the Rwandan genocide ended with US help on July 4 1994.
Rather more bizarrely, Denmark also celebrates the US version – it started with European expats in 1911, but now is just an "excuse for a nice day out".
When is Britain’s Independence Day?
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage made a case for the 23rd June to be Britain’s Independence Day in 2016, because that was the date of the 2016 Brexit vote in which he said the nation "took back control" from the European Union.
However, he was criticised by some who pointed out that liberation from colonial ownership was not really equivalent to Brexit.
And the point that most independence anniversaries around the world celebrate breaking from the British Empire has also been well made.
Read more: Let’s make the Fourth of July our Covid-19 Independence Day
How to celebrate July 4 in the UK
Where to eat and Drink
Smith & Wollensky (London)
If you’re in the capital city, the London branch of one of America’s favourite steakhouse is worth a visit on July 4. With a great selection of USDA prime steaks, you’re sure to enjoy a good meal.
The Pen and Pencil (Manchester)
Visit this New York-style cocktail bar and restaurant in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Taking its name and decor inspiration from the the 1960s ‘Mad Men’ bar on East 45th in New York, The Pen and Pencil is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late night cocktails.
Best attractions to visit
Benjamin Franklin’s House (London)
Visit one of the Founding Fathers’ houses this July 4 and uncover the history of his only surviving home. A historic visit for the United States’ Independence Day.
American Museum and Gardens (Bath)
A hidden gem on the edge of Bath, this is the place to enjoy a uniquely American experience. Set across 125 acres, this museum and its gardens house a collection of folk and decorative arts, as well as showcasing various American traditions. Unfortunately tickets are sold out for July 4 but the museum is open all year round.
Best American recipes for Independence Day
From sweet treats to traditional dishes, the US is famous for its cuisine, with Americans tucking into an array of classic foods every year on Independence Day.
If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July in the UK, here are some of our favourite American recipes to try and taste with your family and friends.
New York-style salt beef is delicious with pickles, horseradish, English mustard or piccalilli and can be enjoyed both hot and cold. Prepare it yourself in the comfort of your own kitchen, following this simple and affordable recipe.
Mississippi mud pie
Mouth-melting dark chocolate combined with delicious praline, biscuits and cream. This Mississippi mud pie makes a great, indulgent Independence Day treat.
Credit: Andrew Crowley
Cheat’s mac and cheese
Diana Henry’s simple recipe for mac and cheese requires no sauce-cooking or pasta-boiling, helping you to serve the American favourite in minimal time.
Classic shrimp and grits
Get a real taste of American cuisine with this classic Shrimp and grits recipe. This traditional Southern dish is creamy, versatile and packed with coastal flavour.
The best cornbread
This tasty cornbread, coated in melted butter and honey, is another perfect dish for your Independence Day feast.
Credit: Andrew Cebulka
American-style salted caramel pancakes recipe
Whip up a stack of these banana and blueberry pancakes, best served with a drizzle of maple syrup, to satisfy your sweet-tooth craving.
Read more: July 4th recipes – the best American dishes to make on Independence Day