“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it 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 forever more”
So wrote John Adams to his wife Abigail, way back in 1776. But wait a minute…the second day in July, and not the fourth?
Adams thought that July 2 would be the day everyone recognized, since the Continental Congress approved their Resolution of Independence from Great Britain on that date. It wasn’t until two days later, though, that delegates formally adopted the Declaration of Independence, the historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. And as it turned out, Adams and Jefferson both died on the same day – July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Chances are there may be more Fourth of July history you don’t know!
It’s hard to overstate how much those first few Independence Day events were colored by the country’s rebellious mood and disrespect for colonial rule; early celebrations included a mock funeral for the King of England. In fact, during the Revolutionary War Washington himself pulled down a statue of the King on horseback; the statue was then broken up and melted down to make bullets. This is how revolutions start!
In the early years of Fourth of July traditions, many towns would have two separate partisan celebrations for each political party. Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were the first political parties of the new country, each having distinctly different political philosophies.
Towns in New England competed with each other to build the biggest bonfire for the celebration, stacking barrels and scrap lumber into huge pyramids. The tallest on record was Salem, Massachusetts’ bonfire, with tiers of barrels stacked 40 high! This tradition still lives on today in some New England towns.
A typical 1800s Fourth of July would start with an artillery reveille at dawn, shooting of muskets into the air, a parade beginning at 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. and a speaker at the courthouse or church (often the mayor or an attorney). After the speech, men would typically go to the town tavern and drink thirteen toasts (impressive!) to the current President, the second to George Washington, followed by toasts to the military, Uncle Sam, the Tree of Liberty and other patriotic icons.
In 1915, Kansas City made the Fourth of July into “Americanization Day,” with 220 new citizens coming together to sing patriotic songs. For several years after, cities such as Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, DC held “melting pot” celebrations with hundreds of thousands of foreign-born Americans bringing their traditions together with Fourth of July festivities in various parades and celebrations.
Massachusetts was the first to make the Fourth of July a state holiday, in 1781. Fourth of July became an unpaid holiday for federal workers in 1870 and then became a paid holiday in 1941.
Fireworks date back to the earliest Fourth of July celebrations, as Congress ordained a “grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons.” The 13 rockets, musket shots and other explosives denoted the original colonies and the number became very important for early Fourth of July events.
Not surprisingly, fireworks became a problem in those early celebrations. From a 1903 article in the Waterton, WI newspaper:
“The usual number of small accidents occurred. Friday night a carelessly fired skyrocket struck the curb in Main Street, then flew upwards and struck Miss Jaedecke, setting her dress on fire. Men nearby went to her rescue and put the fire out before any serious damage was done. Francis Darcey had his face burned with a canon cracker; Edward Conrad had his left hand injured with a toy, pistol; Herbert Kusel’s face and eyes were slightly burned with a toy cannon; Miss Julia Pfaffenbach had her hand injured with a skyrocket, and Henry Behrens, town of Watertown, had a finger torn off with a cannon cracker.”
In 1909, the New York Times reported a nationwide death toll of 61 dead and 3,246 injured over the holiday, from toy pistols, fires, explosions, runaway horses and other mishaps!
Carrot-Top has one of the biggest selections of flags, flagpoles and patriotic supplies you’ll find anywhere. We invite you to have a look at our site, do a little shopping and subscribe to our newsletter to find out about specials and sales.
Holidays like Fourth of July are our favorite time of year here at Carrot-Top and whatever your own Fourth of July traditions are, we hope you have a fun (and safe) Independence Day!