The flag of the United States
Also called the Fourth of July, Independence Day marks the historic date in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was approved by a group called the Continental Congress. The written declaration basically stated that the American colonies were tired of being ruled by Great Britain. It was time for them to become their own country.
Before the declaration, America was part of the Kingdom of Great Britain (now called the United Kingdom). In the 1600s, people came from Great Britain to settle in what is now North America. Between 1607 and 1732, the British founded 13 colonies: Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
The colonists (left) face the British (right) in the Revolutionary War.
As these colonies grew, the people who lived there thought the British government treated them unfairly. For instance, they had to pay taxes on items such as tea and allow British soldiers to stay in their homes. The colonists had to follow these laws but couldn’t do anything to change them. (So uncool!) The colonists rebelled. As a result, the Revolutionary War between the colonists and Great Britain began in 1775.
Fighting wasn’t enough though. The colonists decided they needed to declare their independence in writing to explain their reasons and gain support from other countries like France. On July 4, 1776, a small group of representatives from the colonies—called the Continental Congress—adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence.
A bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson stands at a memorial in Washington, D.C.
Written by a committee led by Thomas Jefferson, the document was signed by people from all 13 colonies. But the British government didn’t accept it. So the colonists continued to fight for independence until they finally defeated Great Britain in 1783.
The Declaration of Independence, now housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is recognized around the world as an important message of self-governance and human rights. The second sentence says it all: that all people are created equally and have rights that include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Fun fact: Jefferson, who would become the third U.S. president, wrote that sentence!)
The Declaration of Independence
Fireworks light up the sky in
Today the United States and Great Britain are friends. Most Americans still celebrate Independence Day, often with parades and fireworks. Historians think this is thanks to a letter written by John Adams, who helped write the declaration and would also go on to be a U.S. president. In his letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams predicted that the colonists’ independence would be celebrated by future generations as an annual festival with parades and bonfires. It’s no wonder that this holiday has turned out to be a total blast!
Photo credits (top to bottom): AXL, Shutterstock; Everett Historical, Shutterstock; John Trumbull, Getty Images; Hisham
F. Ibrahim, Getty Images; Todd Taulman, Dreamstime; Joe Mericer, Shutterstock
Text by Rose Davidson, National Geographic Staff