Independence Day


Independence Day
July 4, a U.S. holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Also called Fourth of July.

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Anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress (July 4, 1776).

It is the greatest secular holiday in the country. Celebrating the day became common only after the War of 1812. Thereafter, civic-minded groups worked to link the ideals of democracy and citizenship to the patriotic spirit of the day.

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▪ Indian holiday
      national holiday in India celebrated annually on August 15. Independence Day marks the end of British rule in 1947 and the establishment of a free and independent Indian nation. It also marks the anniversary of the partition of the subcontinent into two countries, India and Pakistan.

      British rule in India began in 1757 when, following the British victory at the Battle of Plassey, the English East India Company began exercising control over the country. The East India Company ruled India for 100 years, until it was replaced by the British crown in the wake of the Indian Mutiny in 1857–58. The Indian independence movement began during World War I and was led by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand), who advocated for a peaceful and nonviolent end to British rule.

      Independence Day is marked throughout India with flag-raising ceremonies, drills, and the singing of the Indian national anthem. Additionally, various cultural programs are made available in the state capitals. After the prime minister participates in the flag-raising ceremony at the Red Fort historic monument in Old Delhi, a parade ensues with members of the armed forces and police. The prime minister then delivers a televised address to the country, recounting the major accomplishments of India during the previous year and outlining future challenges and goals. Kite flying has also become an Independence Day tradition, with kites of various sizes, shapes, and colours filling the sky. Also, to commemorate the day, government offices in New Delhi remain lit throughout the holiday, even though they are closed.

▪ United States holiday
also called  Fourth of July 
 in the United States, the annual celebration of nationhood. It commemorates the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

      The Congress had voted in favour of independence from Great Britain on July 2 but did not actually complete the process of revising the Declaration of Independence, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson in consultation with fellow committee members John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and William Livingston, until two days later. The celebration was initially modeled on that of the king's birthday, which had been marked annually by bell ringing, bonfires, solemn processions, and oratory. Such festivals had long played a significant role in the Anglo-American political tradition. Especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, when dynastic and religious controversies racked the British Empire (and much of the rest of Europe), the choice of which anniversaries of historic events were celebrated and which were lamented had clear political meanings. The ritual of toasting the king and other patriot-heroes—or of criticizing them—became an informal kind of political speech, further formalized in mid-18th century when the toasts given at taverns and banquets began to be reprinted in newspapers.

      In the early stages of the revolutionary movement in the colonies during the 1760s and early 1770s, patriots used such celebrations to proclaim their resistance to Parliament's legislation while lauding the king as the real defender of English liberties. However, the marking of the first days of independence during the summer of 1776 actually took the form in many towns of a mock funeral for the king, whose “death” symbolized the end of monarchy and tyranny and the rebirth of liberty.

      During the early years of the republic, Independence Day was commemorated with parades, oratory, and toasting, in ceremonies that celebrated the existence of the new nation. These rites played an equally important role in the evolving federal political system. With the rise of informal political parties, they provided venues for leaders and constituents to tie local and national contests to independence and the issues facing the national polity. By the mid-1790s, the two nascent political parties held separate, partisan Independence Day festivals in most larger towns. Perhaps for this reason, Independence Day became the model for a series of (often short-lived) celebrations that sometimes contained more explicit political resonance, such as Washington's birthday and the anniversary of Jefferson's inauguration while he served as president (1801–09).

      The bombastic torrent of words that characterized Independence Day during the 19th century made it both a serious occasion and one sometimes open to ridicule—like the increasingly popular and democratic political process itself in that period. With the growth and diversification of American society, the Fourth of July commemoration became a patriotic tradition which many groups—not just political parties—sought to claim. Abolitionists, women's rights advocates, the temperance movement, and opponents of immigration (nativists) all seized the day and its observance, in the process often declaring that they could not celebrate with the entire community while an un-American perversion of their rights prevailed.

      With the rise of leisure, the Fourth also emerged as a major midsummer holiday. The prevalence of heavy drinking and the many injuries caused by setting off fireworks prompted reformers of the late 19th and the early 20th century to mount a Safe and Sane Fourth of July movement. During the later 20th century, although it remained a national holiday marked by parades, concerts of patriotic music, and fireworks displays, Independence Day declined in importance as a venue for politics. It remains a potent symbol of national power and of specifically American qualities—even the freedom to stay at home and barbecue.

David L. Waldstreicher

Additional Reading
The evolution and significance of Independence Day celebrations is explored in Diana Karter Appelbaum, The Glorious Fourth: An American Holiday, an American History (1989); Len Travers, Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic (1997); and David Walstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820 (1997).

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Universalium. 2010.

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