There has been a pleasant shift toward reusing the phrase “Independence Day” when talking about the Colonies’ separation from England. Apparently first coined in 1791, Independence Day evokes a stronger sense of history than the well-worn Fourth of July holiday, July 4, or simply the 4th — good for marketing all the celebratory hot dogs and red, white and blue products that accompany the holiday, but not nearly as eloquent as the heartfelt independence.

But no matter the name, the history of marking independence with joyful noise and music and parades has been around, some historians say, since 1777, when the town of Bristol, R.I., first set the tone with 13 gunshots fired into the air. That same year, on July 5, John Adams reported in a letter to Abigail Adams about similar festivities, with a 13-gun salute, and then 13 more, over the river in Philadelphia, where “the wharves and shores were lined with a vast concourse of people, all shouting and huzzaing, in a manner which gave great joy to every friend to this country, and the utmost terror and dismay to every lurking Tory.”

The next year, George Washington rationed out more rum to his troops to celebrate the Declaration of Independence, adding libation to the mix.

Independence Day, as the July 4 commemoration was commonly referred to throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, thrived on community gatherings around town grandstands, where perhaps the preamble to — or even the entire — Declaration of Independence was recited, picnics were consumed, music was played and rounds of gunshot were sent skyward.

Towns from Michigan to South Carolina were whooping it up on Independence Day, carousing all through the night, setting off firecrackers, holding races and contests between the biggest and the strongest, and in general, raising a ruckus. That rousing sense of celebration perhaps derives from liberating ourselves from the yoke of the British. It took guts for the patriots to hold their own, but they created the independent states in which we thrive.

But for all the pomp and merrymaking, there is an underlying seriousness and dignity to Independence Day that should also be part of the day’s proceedings. National and political independence and unity are fragile concepts that depend on the collective will of a people to endure and evolve.

We have our freedoms and our participatory government, but they need constant attention in order to survive. We have our Constitution, with “we the people” beginning one of the strongest utterances in history. Today we are lucky enough to live by that, over and over again, in town meetings, in state legislatures and at the nation’s Capitol.

On Independence Day, we celebrate and honor again the right to self-determination, for our Bill of Rights, for our freedoms, all well earned by forbears willing to speak up, march and declare certain truths to be self-evident. In the Midcoast, a combined effort has resulted in the Festival of Independence, four days of fun, including concerts and picnics, the venerable Brooks Field Day and even more fireworks and concerts.

This will be the place to celebrate our independence, and to remember that our freedoms do not come lightly, that millions across the globe seek similar truths in order to form more perfect unions. The test of these United States is whether we can hold together as a union, and not fall prey to divisive partisan politics, and its extremist violence. The effort lies in remembering on Independence Day, and always, what it took to secure certain rights.