Independence Day. I INTRODUCTION Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, the most important national holiday in the United States. It commemorates the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The declaration, written by a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson, is an eloquent statement of the American colonies' intention to become an independent nation. It broke the formal ties between the colonies and Britain after the American Revolution had begun. The Independence Day celebration is a reminder of the ideals on which the nation was founded. Although the signing of the declaration was not completed until August 1776, the Fourth of July holiday has been accepted as the official anniversary of U.S. independence. It was not declared a legal holiday until 1941, however. Today it is celebrated in all states and territories of the United States. II EARLY INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS The first celebration took place in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, four days after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. On that day the declaration was read aloud, city bells rang, and bands played. Within a few years the Fourth of July was observed throughout most of the new nation, although until 1783 the city of Boston, Massachusetts, commemorated Independence Day on March 5, the date of the Boston Massacre. An elaborate Fourth of July celebration was held in Philadelphia in 1788, following the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Several important U.S. projects were started on Independence Day. Work on the Erie Canal in New York state began on July 4, 1817. Construction of the first railroad in the United States, the Baltimore and Ohio, was started on July 4, 1828. July 4 was the date selected in 1848 for laying the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in the U.S. capital. III INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS TODAY The Fourth of July is celebrated publicly with parades and marching bands, patriotic speeches, and displays of fireworks. Many communities have concerts that conclude with "The Stars and Stripes Forever," a patriotic march and salute to the American flag (see Flag of the United States) composed by John Philip Sousa. Flags fly from many buildings and homes, and some towns decorate public buildings in the colors of the flag: red, white, and blue. Many Americans observe the Independence Day holiday by having picnics, barbecues, or other outings with friends and family. Community fireworks displays take place in the evening. The Fourth of July fireworks displays in many large cities are broadcast on television. Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.