Many people celebrate the Fourth of July as the birthday of the United States, but the actual events on that day involved only a half dozen people. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved and signed by the officers of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Most of the other members signed during a ceremony on August 2.
Is the Fourth of July the day the U.S. declared its independence? Explore all the dates during the summer of 1776 that are associated with the Declaration of Independence:
- July 2: Declaration of Independence Resolution adopted by the Continental Congress
- July 4: Declaration of Independence signed by the officers of the Continental Congress
- July 8: First public reading of the Declaration of Independence
- August 2: Declaration of Independence signed by 50 of the 56 men who signed the document
Explore texts that include the stories surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Possibilities include reference books, encyclopedias, and specific texts, examples of which appear in the Independence Day Book List.
With your students, consider why there are so many different dates and why we celebrate the nation’s birthday on July 4.
Historical events and holidays like Independence Day provide an authentic opportunity to investigate primary and secondary sources. Try these resources to encourage students to discover the stories behind historical documents.
The ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan Myth and Truth: Independence Day asks students to think critically about commonly believed stories regarding the beginning of the Revolutionary War and the Independence Day holiday. Check out these other myth and truth lesson plans.
The School Talk article “Primary Sources: Portals to the Past” (pages 5-6) encourages teachers to use primary sources to deepen students’ understanding of historical events and the people who participated in them.
“Writing in the Social Studies Classroom” from Voices from the Middle, describes eight writing assignments that were the key activities of a nine-week history unit. In addition to suggesting ways to use primary sources in the classroom, the article concludes that writing helps students comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information.
Interested in using diaries, letters, photographs, legal records, speeches, essays, biographies, and autobiographies? Check out “Using Primary Sources to Build a Community of Thinkers” from English Journal to find out how “primary sources and nonfiction [can] offer valuable opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and critical thinking in all fields of study.”
Authentic historical documents can awaken students’ interests and help them understand how purpose, audience, and context shape how such texts are interpreted as described in “From Hitler to Hurricanes, Vietnam to Virginia Tech: Using Historical Nonfiction to Teach Rhetorical Context“.
Explore how cultural knowledge creates common ground and a base for action in “The 4th of July and the 22nd of December: The Function of Cultural Archives in Persuasion, as Shown by Frederick Douglass and William Apess” from College Composition and Communication, which includes an in-depth analysis of Frederick Douglass’s essay “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
File away these resources to capitalize on teachable moments throughout the school year!