and The 3 Bears
The History of the Fourth of July
(aka Independence Day)
We're off to claim our spot
on the lawn of National Mall for the annual
A Capitol Fourth Celebration.
Wherever you celebrate, we wish you a grand ol' time!
The Fourth of July celebration is the main summer festival. It is a time when most families get together (other than Christmas) because the kids are out of school, and for most the weather is nice. The Fourth of July was the date that our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776.
Americans just celebrated this event for centuries on their own. But in 1941, Congress finally established the Fourth of July (Independence Day) as a legal holiday.
Now many have said that the Congress actually approved it on July 2, or August 2, the date they really did sign the document. So why the 4th? That was the day the final draft of the Declaration was finished for the August 2nd signing. Confused? They approved the entire idea on July 2, with a rough outline. But on July 4 they actually had their finished draft after a lot of discussion and ratified it. And it takes a while for everyone to get it signed (remember we didn't have fax machine then!), so that was done on August 2.
It was John Adams who wrote his wife and said that the event should be celebrated with pomp and circumstance, parades, shows, games and other stuff. Was he ahead of his time? What he described is the Fourth of July Celebration as we know it today.
The first official 4th of July party was in 1777 ( a year later) in Philadelphia. Warships along the docks fired a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 states. The soldiers who were in the area, paraded through the streets.
By 1788, the 4th of July celebration also commemorated the U.S. Constitution as well, which was recently approved by 10 out of the 13 states. That year was the first 4th of July parade, with horse-drawn floats, one of which was a huge eagle carrying the Justices of the US Supreme Court.
In 1790, the nation's capitol moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. President Thomas Jefferson celebrated the 4th of July by opening the White House to guests. This custom continued under other presidents as well, until the British burnt the White House in 1814.
Another memorable 4th of July was one held in 1865 on a battlefield at Gettysburg; at the end of the Civil War with a procession of black slaves parading through the streets of Richmond, Virginia in 1866; and a Bi-centennial celebration in New York City on July 4, 1976.
The Fourth of July today is a day most Americans stop to celebrate their freedom, appreciate their country, pay respect to those that died to protect us and fly the flag or display its red, white and blue colors in any fashion they choose. The Fourth of July usually a combination of our other patriotic holidays: Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veteran's Day rolled into one. Although some Americans also celebrate those separately from The Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July was extremely popular in the early 1900's and became more popular at the end of each war. It became more of a family or church picnic time in the 1950's. Then the 1960's came and the Vietnam Conflict caused such a division in this country that many just did not feel like celebrating. And then around the 1980's, for some reason America went through this phase of civil liberties, affirmative action and so with the removal of The Pledge of Allegiance out of the schools, in some cases so went the flag from the schools. And there was this stigma created by a small group that it was simply uncool to show patriotism. Why I am not sure.
But with the Bi-Centennial, and the Statue of Liberty rennovation celebrations, patriotism has slowly come back into the hearts of the American people.
However, the terrorism
attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 was like a shot in Uncle Sam's
arm. Suddenly, we were all one nation and we were all "proud to be
an American" and nothing was going to stop us from showing it. Flags sold
out in stores within days after 9-11-2001.
Patriotic clothing, knick knacks, jewelry, could not be made fast enough.
But the Fourth of July hasn't always been considered a patriotic time in some areas of the United States. There are *some* African Americans who celebrate "Juneteenth" on June 19, the day in 1865 when the news that the slaves had been freed finally reached Galveston, Texas by ship because they feel that the celebration of freedom on July 4 is for "white Americans" only and not theirs to share.
And some very intense women's groups use this day to point out that "All men are created equal" eliminates half the country's population = females!
And in some native American indian tribes, they celebrate with pow wows and feasts to pay respect to their own ancestors rather than our nation's forefathers.
For some people the Fourth of July is a day of whimsy. In Maine on July 3rd it is customary for pulling pranks like stealing outhouses or removing porch steps.
But most people celebrate
the 4th with family picnics, church gatherings, community parades and fireworks
displays at night.
Some states have banned all fireworks for public use.
Other states have not. Whatever state you live in, please be careful when dealing with fireworks.
It can also be a terrible time for pets who have a hard time dealing with the noise of firecrackers.
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence died on July 4, 1826 at noon in his home in Virginia. The day he died was the 50th anniversary of the document's signing.
Ironically, John Adams of Massachusetts who supported the Declaration of Independence and is also the father of President John Quincy Adams died just a few hours later on the same day, July 4, 1826.
The term fireworks didn't come about until 1777 when the first Fourth of July celebration took place. Before that, they were simply called "rockets." Because they were more visual than anything, they called them "fireworks." Later on, the ones that were made for noise (and not beauty) were called "fire crackers." And in 1880 "sparklers" were created. What child hasn't held a sparkler in their hand? If not, those are long thin wands that spit out bursts of sparks in waterfall-style patterns.
In the Middle Ages, they had "firemasters" who designed and put on elaborate fireworks displays for military victories, religious festivals and crowning of kings and queens. Because this became so popular, by the 1700's they needed help, and so the assistants were known as "wild men" or "green men" because they wore caps made of green leaves.
They were much like jesters, flitting among the crowds telling stories, jokes and warning people to stand back. Then they would set off the fireworks with lighted sticks called "fire clubs." This was a dangerous job and many "green men" were injured or killed when a firecracker mis-fired or didn't shoot high enough in the air to be safe.
When fireworks came to America they were used for both domestic and public celebrations. By 1870, American companies were marketing fireworks for private use by renaming them Roman Candles, Flying Dragons, Sun Wheels and Prismatic Fountains. And the popularity of the "at home in your backyard" fireworks fun meant many people didn't have to deal with huge crowds to enjoy them. But, it meant they had to pay for them, whereas the public displays were usually paid for by the town and free to view. Fireworks are legal in my state and IMHO they are not cheap!
Only 35 states as of right now have fireworks legal for the public to use. The other 15 states make it illegal totally. And in the case of *some* states, they allow only certain kinds of fireworks to be legal. All states since 1966 have banned Cherry Bombs and other large firecrackers due to the large number of injuries.
Although sold in America, most of them are made in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Every year Washington,
D.C. puts on a 4th of July
entertainment show and fireworks display called
A Capitol Fourth!
Click here to learn it's history.
When was the first 4th of July parade? It actually wasn't a parade on a street at all. It really was a parade of boats on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. President John Quincy Adams (1825 to 1829) and a group of Americans and foreign dignitaries boarded a steamboat and led a procession of barges and other boats up the river to the site today known as The Tidal Basin. They then transferred to smaller boats, and floated up the old Washington Canal to the place that had been selected for the new Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. (It's now a park in Maryland and a great place to visit.) President Adams did the groundbreaking there for the waterway canal to cut straight through the heart of Washington, D.C. between the Capitol building and Washington Monument.
Today, most every city holds a Fourth of July Parade down it's main street in town. Marching bands play patriotic music, most commonly by John Phillips Sousa, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts walk down the street, members of clubs and organizations usually have a float, their often is a Miss ____ on a float also. And, in my hometown the fire truck would come by and toss candy to kids and squirt the crowds sweetly with water.
Fourth of July Picnics
Fourth of July and food have always gone hand in hand. In 1777 grand banquets were held in Philadelphia to commemorate the first anniversary of the approval of the Declaration of Independence. Other towns followed. And because it grew in popularity, the feasting then was taken outdoors. My the mid 1900's the annual Fourth of July picnic was a national tradition, often being paid for by the company you worked for and often called "The Company Picnic." (Some companies today have their own picnic separate from the 4th of July time since many employees often take that time off for vacation.)
What happens at a Fourth of July Picnic?
You can have it in your own back yard, on a friend's deck or patio, at a beach, a state park or public camping or picnic area.
The common practice
is to BBQ or grill food such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and in some areas
fish, lobster or oysters.
Some areas like BBQ chicken while I experienced a big popularity in California for marinated chicken in teriyaki sauce and then cooked on the grill. Other families like fried chicken, corn on the cob, relishes, coleslaw, deviled eggs, potato salad, chocolate cake or angel food cake and a variety of homemade pies. Some really energetic families make their own ice cream on the 4th. Others just buy some. Drinks are usually soda, lemonade, Kool-Aid and beer.
Activities at a picnic all depend on your host. It can me a simple time to get together and chat, and take pictures. While other picnics include contests and games like: tug-of-war, sack of potato races, watermelon-eating, pie-eating, Frisbee, baseball or just playing catch, croquet, bocce ball, chasing greased pigs, cards, or anything else that comes to mind depending on location and weather.
By the end of the 19th century, political campaigns often began on the 4th of July. So the local politician is the one who often sponsored the 4th of July picnic, with free food and entertainment as long as you also listened to his campaign speech! Today, political campaigns usually don't get started until Labor Day.
some information from:
"Holiday Symbols, 2nd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2000