Federal Legislation Establishing the Fourth of July Holiday

Researched by James R. Heintze. All rights reserved.

The act of Congress establishing Fourth of July as a holiday, but without pay, for federal employees and the District of Columbia occurred in 1870. Senator Hannibal Hamlin (Dem.-Maine, and previously vice president under Abraham Lincoln) introduced a Senate Bill (referred HR no. 2224), issued through the Committee on the District of Columbia, Forty-first Congress, Session II, on 24 June 1870, and titled "Legal Holidays in the District." Hamlin presented his rationale for the bill: "There are no legal holidays here, and this bill merely provides for what I think are the legal holidays in every state of the Union." Apparently there was no opposition to the bill which "was reported to the Senate without amendment; ordered to a third reading, read the third time, and passed." It was reported in the Congressional Globe, Friday, June 28, 1870, and was printed as Chapter 167:

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.

On June 29, 1938, by joint resolution of Congress (HJ resolution No. 551; pub. res. no. 127), the Fourth of July was legislated as a Federal holiday with pay for its 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.

On January 14, 1941, it was brought to the attention of Congress by Robert Ramspeck, Chairman, Committee on the Civil Service of the House of Representatives (see 77th Congress, House of Representatives Report No. 532), that the 1938 Federal holiday law failed to specify that employees of the Government of the District of Columbia also have the Fourth of July designated as a holiday with pay. Harry B. Mitchell, president of the United States Civil Service Commission responded back on April 7 that his office, as well as the Bureau of the Budget, had no objection to amending the 1938 law to include District of Columbia employees. On May 13, 1941, a "Holiday Leave for Per Diem Employees of the District of Columbia" amendment was enacted with the following change made to the 1938 law:

In compliance with paragraph 2a of the Rule XIII, of the Rules of the House of Representatives, changes in existing law are shown as follows (present law is in roman and new matter is in italics): (Act of June 29, 1938, 52 Stat. 1246) "That hereafter whenever regular employees of the Federal Government or of the district of Columbia 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, Armistice Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or any other day declar4ed a holiday by Federal statute or Executive order, or any day on which the departments and establishments of the Government or of the District of Columbia 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."

On September 22, 1959, an act was passed by Congress (H.R. 5752, Public Law 86-362) that if the Fourth of July and any other established holiday occurs on a Saturday, "the day immediately preceding such Saturday shall be held and considered to be a legal public holiday, in lieu of such day which so occurs on such Saturday, (A) for such officers and employees whose basic workweek is Monday through Friday, and (B) for the purposes of section 205 (d) of the Annual and Sick Leave Act of 1951 (65 Stat. 681), as amended (5 U.S.C. 2064 (d)). The act also provided for a day of release for employees "whose basic workweek is other than Monday through Friday."

Occasionally members of Congress have also either introduced bills or facilitated the passing of legislation which designated certain Fourth of July holidays with patriotic themes. In 1991, a joint resolution (H.J. Res. 278, 102nd Congress, 1st Session) was introduced June 21 by five congressmen that year as "July 4th Family Celebration Day," a bill which advocated for the importance of the family unit.

On February 27, 1992 a bill (SJR 262, 102nd Congress, 2nd session) was introduced by Senator Robert W. Kasten (R-WI) that would have designated July 4, 1992, as "Buy American Day."

On February 3, 1998, Congress approved legislation (Congressional Record, 3 February 1998, and Public Law 105-225) that designated the 21 days between Flag Day through Independence Day as "Honor America Days." Congress declared "that there be public gatherings and activities during that period at which the people of the United States can celebrate and honor their country in an appropriate way."

Additional significant legislation established the annual levee to take place at the president's house: Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee made a resolution in the Confederation Congress on June 28, 1786 for the first (national) governmental celebration of July 4. The text from the Library of Congress web site of page 368 of the Journals of Congress gave Lee's resolution: "On Motion of Mr. [Henry] Lee, seconded by Mr. [Pierse] Long, Resolved, That tuesday next, being the Anniversary of the declaration of Independence, there shall be a public Levee at the President's house, from the hours of twelve to two, to receive the ordinary congratulations, and that the Secretary of Congress take Order for due communication thereof." Footnoted: "This motion, in the writing of Henry Lee, is in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 23, folio 299. A letter dated June 29, from Charles Thomson to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs requesting him to inform the foreign ministers of the fact is in No. 55, folio 307." [This information was contributed by Judy Hynson, Director of Research & Collections, Stratford Hall]

This page last updated February 2012.

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