INDEPENDENCE DAY. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776 has caused that day to be taken as the birth date of the United States of America. Strangely, the commemoration of the Fourth of July received its first big impetus and had the pattern set for its celebration before the event even came to pass. On 3 July, John Adams wrote to his wife:
The second day of July, 1776,…Iamaptto believe … will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.
Adams was thinking of the resolution of independence adopted on 2 July as the pivotal event, but the Declaration of Independence soon completely obscured the resolution.
The first anniversary does not appear to have been commemorated throughout the thirteen states, but there were elaborate celebrations in the principal cities, and parades, the firing of guns, the ringing of bells, decorations, illuminations, fireworks, and the drinking of toasts constituted the chief features in every instance. The practice of commemorating the Glorious Fourth soon spread widely, particularly after the adoption of the Constitution. As the years went by, some of the early features of the celebration declined or disappeared entirely, such as the thirteen guns and thirteen (or thirteen times thirteen) toasts. Meanwhile, sports and games, which at first were only a minor part of the festivities, became the greatest attraction. In country regions, the Fourth of July became a day for picnics, with exhibitions of skill in such contests as potato races, watermelon eating, and catching the greased pig, without much thought of the Declaration of Independence. Since 1777, fireworks, great and small, have held a prominent place. In the early 1900s, serious efforts were made to promote safety in Fourth of July celebrations, and in ensuing years the personal possession of fireworks has been outlawed in many states.
Bodnar, John, ed. Bonds of Affection: Americans Define Their Patriotism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Knopf, 2000.
Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1998.
Edmund C.Burnett/a. g.