An illustration of American seamstress Betsy Ross showing the first design of the American flag to George Washington in Philadelphia
1. The colonies officially declared independence on July 2
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved Virginian delegate Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence, dissolving the political bands that connected the 13 American colonies to the crown.
July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day because the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, after two days of debating and revising its contents. The Declaration was just a formal statement and explanation of the split effected on July 2, and it seems the founding fathers intended July 2 to be celebrated as Independence Day.
In a July 3 letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams made this prediction:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with [Shows], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. (Read full article at PBS's website)