July 4, 1776 – The United States of America:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.One of the most important sentences in the English language, it contains the most potent and consequential words in American history. This passage represents a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was promoted by Lincoln, who considered the Declaration to be the foundation of his political philosophy and argued that it is a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted.
During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain in 1776 actually occurred on July 2, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declaring the United States independent from Britain’s rule. After voting for independence, Congress turned its attention to the Declaration of Independence, a statement explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a committee of five white men, with Thomas Jefferson the main writer of the document. Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration for two days, finally approving it on July 4. A day earlier, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail (played by Blythe Danner in the film version):
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.
And, so, in our own era we celebrate the day with appliance sales, eating too much German potato salad and by blowing shit up because we are Americans, damnit!
You probably know this, but I will tell it anyway: Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress. They’re not the only presidents to have died on the Fourth, Number Five, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831. The country’s 30th Commander-in-Chief, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.
The famous image at the top of this post is of all the Founding Fathers and Continental Congress huddled together, presenting the first draft of the Declaration of Independence for signing on July 4, 1776 but isn’t quite how it all happened.
July 4 is just the day the document was formally dated, finalized, and adopted by the Continental Congress, which had officially voted for independence on July 2, the day Adams thought we should celebrate. Early printed copies of the Declaration were signed by John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson to be given to military officers and various political committees, but the bulk of the other 54 men signed an official copy on August 2, with others to follow later. Hancock boldly signed his name again on the updated version.
There is only one copy of the engrossed and signed Declaration of Independence in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. This copy was signed several weeks after the Declaration of Independence was first published.
It is estimated that the printer John Dunlap produced 200 copies, but there are 26 known copies of the Dunlap copy in the world today. Check your attic.
If you want it to seem like you know your history at some barbecue today, point out that we’re celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, not the signing of it. It’s the sure way to not get invited back on Labor Day.
After years of pent-up frustration, the 13 colonies let loose upon hearing the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Military personnel and civilians in Manhattan tore down a statue of King George III and later melted it into bullets; the King’s coat of arms was used as kindling for a bonfire in Philadelphia; and in Savannah, the citizens burnt the King in effigy and held a mock funeral.
Independence Day celebrations began to look like the ones we grew up with in 1777. The Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:
The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.
There were ships decked out in patriotic colors lining harbors and streamers around the city streets. Except for those zany mock funerals and rioting of July, 4 1776, our own era’s Independence Day celebrations have mostly stuck with the traditions started in 1777.
On the Fourth of July in New England it’s a tradition to eat salmon. In the 18th century, during the middle of the summer, salmon was in abundance in rivers throughout the region. It eventually got lumped into the July 4 party in 1776 and has stayed that way ever since. You’ll need to pair it with some green peas; if you’re going for that good old 18th century authenticity, enjoy the whole meal with some turtle soup, like John and Abigail Adams did on the first Fourth of July.
Massachusetts recognized the Fourth of July as an official holiday on July 3, 1781, the first state to do so. In 1870, Congress decided to start designating federal holidays; the first four were New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, decreeing those days as holidays for federal employees. However, there was a distinction. The Fourth was a holiday “within the District of Columbia” only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.
85 years before Independence Day was recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day. It started as “America’s Oldest Fourth of July Celebration” in Bristol, Rhode Island in 1785.
The party began two years after the Revolutionary War ended, and today will be its 234th festivity. The town of 23,000 citizens begin to celebrate on Flag Day, June 14 (not to be confused with Fag Day which is on June 28) until July 4, with a cavalcade of parades, live music, food, and other wholesome activities. 50,000 showed up last year.
The shortest, Fourth of July parade is in Aptos, California, with a parade of two city blocks, and measuring just .6 miles, made up of vintage automobiles, decorated trucks, and senior brigade with walkers.
According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (yes, there is such a thing) there are at least 15,000 fireworks displays that take place on the Fourth of July holiday, even if in my neighborhood they start on July 2 and end sometime in early August. Most small towns spend $8000-$15,000 for their fireworks display, with larger cities going into the millions. The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular costs more than $2 million.
I don’t know what you are up to, but I am celebrating by hiding in my house while trying to calm my two terriers. They hate this holiday. They do like hot dogs, even when they are hot dogs.
150 million hot dogs will be consumed by Americans on the Fourth of July. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (have you paid your dues?). Laid end to end, those wieners would stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and back more than four times.
In 2018, 74 dogs were scarfed down by Joey Chestnut, who won the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition for the eleventh time. Coney Island rewards to top hot dog eater with $40,000. You can join the thousands of spectators, many wearing Nathan’s Famous hats, who will be watching the event on the elevated boardwalk stage while vowing never to eat another hot dog ever.
America is fat and Americans spend a lot of money on food and drink on this holiday, like they do all holidays. According to the National Retail Federation we spend around $7 billion, averaging about $75 per person. Now that is patriotism!
According to The National Beer Institute, more beer is sold on the Fourth of July than during any other time throughout the year. Americans spend around $1 billion on beer for their Fourth celebrations, and more than $560 million on wine.
POTUS plans a big Nuremberg rally with the biggest, bestest celebration ever, featuring military demonstrations and a speech he’ll make at the Lincoln Memorial, even an Air Force One flyover. And Mexico is going to pay for it. The tickets for the VIP area are steep. He’s encouraging attendees to come with flags in hand, predicting last week at his rally in Orlando that there will “hundreds of thousands” of people.
Trump’s speech and military parade are inspired by what he called one of the greatest parades he’s ever seen: Bastille Day in France in 2017. That’s when, as a guest of handsome French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump just couldn’t get over the display of military might. That is when Fat Donnie commented to handsome Emmanuel:
I think we’re going to have to start looking at that ourselves. We’re actually thinking about 4th of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength.
Other presidents have participated in July 4th events, of course, but only one, Harry S. Truman, delivered a speech on the holiday, and that was about the Korean War in 1951.
Trump is basically holding a televised White Nationalist campaign event using taxpayer money. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland (one of the original 13 colonies) said this week:
Frankly, that’s not what July 4th is about. It’s not about politics in the partisan sense — it’s about democracy, it’s about freedom, it’s about individual liberties, it’s about pursuit of happiness. Not about politics, not about polarization, not about focusing on differences. It’s about one nation under god indivisible. And it’s sad that the president’s turning it into — in my opinion and the opinion of many — a political rally.