When the initial battles of the Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, few colonists desired complete independence from Great Britain, and those who did were considered radical. However, by the middle of 1776, many more colonists had come to favor independence thanks to growing hostility against Britain and the spread of revolutionary sentiments, such as those expressed in Thomas Paine’s bestselling pamphlet “Common Sense”. On June 7, when the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, introduced a motion calling for the colonies’ independence. Amid heated debate, Congress postponed the vote on Lee’s resolution, but appointed a five-man committee to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain. Those men included: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York.
On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of Lee’s resolution for independence. On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife that July 2 “will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” On July 4th, the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had been written largely by Jefferson. Though the vote for actual independence took place on July 2, the 4th became the day that was celebrated as the birth of American independence.