American Holidays: Independence Day

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11632

There is one holiday that's referred to by the day it's celebrated instead of a person or event, and the event it commemorates is often misunderstood. Do you know what this summer holiday's all about?


Social Studies

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Only one of the following statements is true. Can you identify the factual statement?

  1. The Revolutionary War started because the colonists wanted to separate from Great Britain.
  2. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
  3. Independence Day commemorates America declaring independence from Great Britain.
  4. The colonists were initially angry with Great Britain because they did not want to pay taxes.

Independence Day, also referred to as the 4th of July, is a day to celebrate America becoming its own nation.

It is perhaps one of the most beloved and well-known holidays in the United States, celebrated with fireworks displays, parades, concerts, town festivals, and family barbeques.

4th of July picnic

Yet, although it is so well known, many misconceptions now exist surrounding the holiday and the events it celebrates.

As you read about the history and traditions of Independence Day, make a list of all the common misconceptions people have about Independence Day!

  • So, what does the 4th of July actually celebrate?

Watch America the Story of Us: Declaration of Independence | History to see what all the fuss is about!

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One of the misconceptions about the colonists is that they desired independence from Great Britain from the start of the war. Another is that they did not want to pay taxes. Neither of these are correct.

At first, most colonists did not wish to separate from their mother country, and they didn't protest paying some fair taxes. Rather, they wanted recognition, fairness, and a voice in Parliament.

By the summer of 1776, it became clear this wish would not be granted by the British king, King George III, and many colonists began to feel that separation from Britain was the only way to get what they were seeking.

In June 1776, a group of representatives from each colony, known as the Continental Congress, voted to declare independence from British rule. They appointed a committee with the task of drafting a letter to the king that would explain their decision.

This committee met in Independence Hall in Philidephia:

Independence Hall Assembly Room

Image by Rdsmith4, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

While Thomas Jefferson is credited as the author of the Declaration of Independence, he was not the only man asked to complete the task.

The men appointed to draft a formal Declaration of Independence were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, who are all seen standing at the table in the front of this famous painting:

Declaration of Independence

Image by John Trumbull, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

The committee agreed to allow Thomas Jefferson to write the initial draft, because Jefferson had proved to have a way with words throughout the revolution.

Jefferson wrote what is now considered to be one of the best and most beloved documents ever written:

Declaration of Independence

Image by William Stone, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

In the document, Jefferson stated that it had become necessary for the colonies to declare independence and provided a list of reasons why. The committee approved Jefferson's document. Then it was sent back to the full Continental Congress, where it was also officially agreed upon on July 4, 1776.

Watch History of the 4th of July: Crash Course US History Special to learn more about the day and the celebration!

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While the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4 — marking the date that the colonies officially declared their independence from Great Britain — the document was not officially signed until August 2, 1776, because it had to be sent away to be printed on parchment. Parchment would increase the longevity of this significant document.

Altogether, 56 men risked their lives by signing the Declaration of Independence.

Today, Americans celebrate this momentous event every year on July 4. The nationally-recognized holiday is known as American Independence Day. Most people are given time off work and school.

Friends and families gather for large cookouts and typically end the day by watching a large fireworks display. The tradition of using fireworks on the 4th of July is almost as old as the holiday itself.

The first Independence Day was celebrated in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. Colonists came together to watch a fireworks display that was meant to raise spirits in the midst of the Revolutionary War.


  • After reading this section, were you able to spot the one accurate statement from the list at the beginning of the lesson?

The correct statement is, "Independence Day commemorates America declaring independence from Great Britain."

Hold on to the list you created and move on to the Got It? section to review all of the Independence Day misconceptions discussed in this section.

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