Independence Day 2021

By Dan Rice, MS. Ed., Thursday, July 01, 2021

This holiday weekend, we will celebrate the 245th anniversary since our Founding Fathers bravely declared independence from Great Britain and the monarchy of King George III. Throughout the course of American history, we have had 245 Independence Day celebrations. Many were key milestones for their generation at the time. For us, this 4th of July is one of those incredibly meaningful and memorable milestones. Each of you, working out of your homes, have led your teams through COVID. Now, at last, it is time for you to celebrate, to be free again, and to regain your independence.

The history of our Independence Day is rich. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence. Two days later, on July 4, 1776, the delegates of the 13 colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, eloquently written by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson would later be elected the 3rd President of the United States. President Jefferson signed the legislation to create the United States Military Academy at West Point on March 16, 1802 (Founder’s Day), thus becoming the “Founder of West Point.”  The West Point Library is named in honor of President Jefferson.  

Since then, throughout our history, some Independence Days have been monumental for the Americans who celebrated them. For many at the time, they might not have known how significant the dates were, but with the benefit of hindsight we can clearly see the magnitude of these Independence Days.  

Here are a few key dates:

  • 2 July 1776  Vote to Declare Independence - Delegates of the 13 colonies vote to declare independence from Great Britain.
  • 4 July 1776 – Declaration of Independence - Delegates sign the Declaration of Independence. 
  • 4 July 1777 – 1st Independence Day Celebration - All the gunships in Philadelphia Harbor (then the U.S. capitol) fire a 13-gun salute for the 13 colonies on the 1st celebration of our Independence Day.
  • 4 July 1863 – Union Victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg - Americans across the Union celebrated two major victories: MG Grant (USMA 1843) at Vicksburg and MG Meade (USMA 1835) at Gettysburg the three days prior.  These two victories are considered the turning point in the Civil War and helped hold our nation together to win the War of Rebellion and eliminate slavery forever.  Americans might not have known it at the time, but that Independence Day was the turning point to the Union victory, yet there were two long years of war remaining.  
  • 4 July 1870 – Declared 4th of July a Federal Holiday - Congress declares the 4th of July a federal holiday (unpaid) under President Ulysses S. Grant (USMA 1843).
  • 4 July 1876 – France Gits Statue of Liberty - France was America’s first ally and their support helped us win the American Revolutionary War. The French gifted the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. for the Centennial celebrations in 1876, though it would not be completed until 1886.  Lady Liberty holds a book in her hand with July 4, 1776, our first Independence Day, inscribed upon it.  The Statue of Liberty was designed by an architect Gustave Eiffel, who would later design the Eiffel Tower. The statue was paid for by the French government and built in France.  The pedestal of the Statue of Liberty was designed by an American named Robert Morris Hunt, and paid for by funds raised from the American public.  Hunt would also design Pershing Barracks at West Point in 1895. 
  • 4 July 1941 – 4th of July becomes a Paid Federal Holiday -  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt turns the 4th of July into a paid federal holiday, while World War II was raging in Europe. The US had not yet entered the war but would soon experience 4 years of brutal combat.    
  • 4 July 1943  Considered the turning point in World War II - The US had just won the Battle of Midway in the Pacific, the North Africa campaign had been won, and the Allies would soon invade Italy. However, two long years of war remained. Only in hindsight could Americans know that July 4, 1943, had been the turning point to the victory in World War II. 
  • 4 July 1964  First Independence Day Celebration after the Cival Rights Act - Two days after the signing of legislation to create the 1964 Civil Rights Act, giving all Americans equal rights, Americans of all races, could celebrate Independence Day, finally with equal rights for all.  
  • 4 July 1976 – 200th Anniversary of Independence Day - Bicentennial celebrations were held across America to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Independence Day. 
  • 4 July 2021 – Hopeful turning point marking our Freedom from COVID - This Independence Day will probably be one of the most meaningful Independence Day celebrations for many living Americans.  This will mark our freedom from COVID. It doesn’t mean the virus is gone, but all Americans have had the opportunity to receive the vaccines.  Flights to other nations are beginning and the world is coming back to life again. In hindsight, hopefully we will recognize this Independence Day was the official end of COVID as an exogenous threat to our nation.   
  • 4 July 2026 -  250th Anniversary of Independence - This will be the 250th anniversary of our Independence.  It will be called the Sestercentennial.   This will be one of the biggest celebrations of our lifetimes, and hopefully COVID is a distant memory from 5 years earlier!  

The history of our great nation is incredibly important to remember.  And we have just completed a tumultuous period of our nation’s history.  I hope when you look back on the history of the past 18 months, you will look back with pride, and think of it as a time that we all came together to achieve what many thought was impossible. Enjoy the 4th of July!  


Daniel Rice

EXPERIENCE Dan is the President of Thayer Leadership and a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 2010, Dan co-founded Thayer Leadership along with four other West Point graduates with the mission of bringing the world to West Point and bringing West Point leadership to the... Read More +

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