This question is slightly unfair to all of the states that joined the union in the 1800 and 1900s, or even after the original thirteen colonies, but it’s important nevertheless. To that point, you can probably narrow it down to at least ten to thirteen and from there think about which states played an outsized role in the battle for Independence against the British Empire. The battles of the American Revolution were fought as far north as Quebec and as far south as Savannah. With France’s entry in 1778, it even became an international conflict that was fought on the high seas and had ramifications for Europe as well. With that said, there was one “shot heard round the world” on April 19th, 1775 when hundreds of British troops marched into Lexington, Massachusetts on a mission to capture American Patriot leaders and seize a collection of weapons and military equipment. It makes sense then, that the state that hosted the Battles of Lexington & Concord – Massachusetts – was also the first state to officially recognize the July 4th holiday.
According to the Massachusetts State Library, “on July 3, 1781, Massachusetts became the first state legislature to recognize July 4 as an official state celebration.” Moreover, they note, that “there is no disputing that Boston is the epicenter as the ‘cradle of liberty’ where the American independence movement all began with ‘the shot heard round the world’ back in April of 1776” as referenced above. So when did July 4th become a holiday for the rest of the country? Well, believe it or not, it took a while. Congress didn’t even decide to start designating federal holidays until 1870, and when they finally did decree that Independence day was a holiday for federal employees it wasn’t a unique occasion. Along with July 4th, Congress also made New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas federal holidays as well. There was one catch, however. As Mental Floss points out, “the Fourth was a holiday ‘within the District of Columbia’ only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.” Ultimately, however, the holiday was officially recognized by the rest of the states and we’ve been celebrating it as a nation ever since.
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So if Massachusetts was the first state to officially recognize July 4th as a holiday, the state must be home to the oldest annual Independence Day celebration, right? Well, not quite. In order to attend the oldest annual July 4th celebration, you would have to drive south to the Ocean State. That’s right – “eighty-five years before the Fourth of July was even recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day, according to Mental Floss. “Billed as ‘America’s Oldest Fourth of July Celebration,’ the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has been doing Independence Day right since 1785.” With that said, this holiday is not about competition between states, regions, or groups of people. July 4th is the one day of year that ALL citizens come together to celebrate this experiment we call, “America”. As one country, we can be thankful for the sacrifices our family and friends have made for us to be able to call our home the greatest country in the world.