In the Saint Maggie series, Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, appears twice and under vastly different circumstances. Walk by Faith shows us vision of destruction, death, and exhaustion the day after the Battle of Gettysburg ended. A Good Community, on the other hand, is quite different. It’s a small-town, quaint celebration with which most of us will find familiar.
However, before we go there (which will be on Friday), I thought I’d offer up a brief, general background on July 4th it’s celebrations.
The date 4 July commemorates the day that the Continental Congress approved the final written draft of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft in June 1776 and then document was submitted to the Continental Congress on 1 July 1776, where changes and edits were made to it. Basically, the Fourth of July is “final draft” day and so that is the date inscribed upon it. (ConstitutionFacts)
Historically, we don’t a national celebration surrounding the date until the nineteenth century. The reasons are varied. The main one was that the 1790s the Declaration became controversial. In the 1790s one party, the Democratic-Republicans, approved of the Declaration of Independence and its creator, Thomas Jefferson. (By the way, as a person living in 2019, I find the name “Democratic-Republicans” amusingly ironic.) On the other hand, the Federalists, who were the opposition party, claimed that the Declaration was “too French and too anti-British,” and stood in opposition to their policies. (ConstitutionFacts) So what we have here appears to be a good old-fashioned bipartisan battle, something that apparently is as American as… well, the Fourth of July.
It wasn’t until after the War of 1812, when new parties began to emerge and the Federalist’s party (along with its attitude toward the Declaration) gradually faded away, that interest in the Fourth of July became more pronounced. New parties emerged at that time aligning themselves with the ideals of the old Republican-Democratic party. As a result, copies of the Declaration of Independence began to be reprinted and distributed once again as a matter of patriotic pride. Renewed interest in the Fourth of July also arose when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day, which happened to be 4 July 1826. (ConstitutionFacts)
But it was not until 1870 that Independence Day, along with several other holidays. Was included in a bill regarding national holidays. The Fourth of July was included later with other holidays in two other national holiday bills passed in 1939 and 1941. (Constitution Facts)
However, a holiday focused on a document that proclaimed “all men are created equal” also was ironic. And did not go unnoticed. In 1852, Frederick Douglass was invited to give the oration at an Independence Day celebration in Rochester, NY. His speech, shocked his listeners, writes Sarah Hawkes, “by using the holiday to make a strong case for emancipation.” You may read Douglass’ oration at: http://masshumanities.org/files/programs/douglass/speech_abridged_med.pdf.
In 1854, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society organized a commemoration of Independence Day by featuring “speeches from leading abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau. Rather than a celebration of freedom and independence, abolitionists used the occasion to highlight the incongruities between the Fourth of July rhetoric and the continued enslavement of African Americans“ (Hawkes).
On 1876, the Declaration’s centennial, the city of Philadelphia held celebrations in Independence Square, using the occasion “to unite the North and South after the divisions of the Civil War.” The day included hanging a new Liberty Bell in Independence Hall. It was rung 13 times in honor of the 13 colonies (Hawkes).
On the non-political side, nineteenth-century American celebrations regarding the Fourth of July involved fireworks and other explosives, as well food. There also were organized events such as parades and banquets, patriotic plays, and worship services. And there were informal, and often chaotic, happenings as well – bonfires, pyrotechnics of all kinds, and rifle fire. These often were seen as an annoyance, if not a danger to the public. But the our 19th century forebears were every bit as undeterred about having explosions on the Fourth as we are today. (Margino)
In addition to the solemn events and the noise making, there was food. New York City had its infamous booths. These were set up “three miles on both sides of Broadway and surrounding City Hall Park” from the late 1700s into the 1840s. At the booths one could find a variety food, everything from pineapples, to ham, to oysters, pies, and more. But what made the booths infamous was that they also sold drinks of all kind containing a kick: the usual beer, cider, and eggnog, and of course the harder stuff (Margino).
Not surprisingly the booths became a target for temperance groups, who saw them as a threat to morality and a plain nuisance. A struggle between pro-booth and anti-booth forces raged until the anti-booth group won and the booths were banned in the 1840s. (Margino)
We’ll pay Maggie a visit on Friday to examine what the 4 July 1864 was like in Blaineton. (I think I’ll skip discussing the Fourth in Gettysburg 1863. It’s pretty grim.)
Don’t forget: Writing Wednesday is coming up with Chapter 3 of A Good Community.
Hawkes, Sarah. “The Fourth of July in United States History,” U.S. History Scene
Margino, Megan. “Independence Day Booths: Fourth of July Feasting in 19th Century New York.” New York Public Library, 1 July 2015.
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