Independence Day, as seen on Westlaw

July 5, 2012

In honor of Independence Day this year, I had planned to try a do a post pointing to significant documents in the history of our Fourth of July holiday.  For example, at 1 Stat. 1, you’ll find the document that is the reason for the holiday in the first place, the Declaration of Independence. 

My next thought was to find the law Congress passed establishing July 4 as a national holiday.  Should be simple enough, right?  But as I ran a search through US-STATLRG, the database for United States Statutes at Large from 1789-1972, I was quickly sidetracked.  Simply searching that database for

“july 4”

brought back 157 documents.  But what struck me as surprising about that was the amount of legislative business that has been conducted on that day.  There are 11 enactments alone from July 4, 1836!  I also learned that the First Session of the 37th Congress convened on July 4, 1861.  Not surprisingly, the first acts of business of this session related to providing arms and payment for Union soldiers.

Actually, the Fourth of July wasn’t recognized as a holiday by the federal government until 1870, in 16 Stat. 168, which provided:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the following days, to wit: the first day of January, commonly called New Year’s day, the fourth day of July, the twenty-fifth day of December, commonly called Christmas day, and any day appointed or recommended by the President of the United States as a day of public fast or thanksgiving, shall be holidays within the District of Columbia, and shall, for all purposes of presenting for payment or acceptance for the maturity and protest, and giving notice of the dishonor of b ills of exchange, bank checks and promissory notes or other negotiable or commercial paper, be treated and considered as is the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, and all notes, drafts, checks, or other commercial or negotiable paper falling due or maturing on either of said holidays shall be deemed as having matured on the day previous. Approved, June 28, 1870.

Search:  fourth /3 july in US-STATLRG.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid holiday for federal employees:

Resolved by the Senate and House of representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that hereafter whenever regular employees of the Federal Government whose compensation is fixed at a rate per day, per hour, or on a piece-work basis are relieved or prevented from working solely because of the occurrence of a holiday such as New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or any other day declared a holiday by Federal statute or Executive order, or any day on which the departments and establishments of the Government are closed by Executive order, they shall receive the same pay for such days as for other days on which an ordinary day’s work is performed. Section 2. The joint resolution of January 6, 1885 (U.S.C., title 5, sec. 86), and all other laws inconsistent or ion conflict with the provision of this Act are hereby repealed to the extent of such inconsistency or conflict. Approved, June 29, 1938.

Public Resolution 75-127 (52 Stat. 1246).  Search: “Fourth of July” in FED-LH.

So to all those employees, federal or otherwise, who enjoyed their paid holiday, Happy Fourth of July!