On July 3rd, 1776, John Adams sent a now-famous letter to his wife, Abigail, describing what he thought the future of Independence Day would look like:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. 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.
As we know, Adams’ prophecy came true. Independence Day is indeed celebrated with “pomp and parade.” From the fantastic firework displays to the patriotic music, the 4th of July has become a grand celebration like no other.
I think one of the things I like most about Independence Day is that it makes me feel a connection with those first Americans who lived and died so long ago. It’s comforting to know that the feelings of patriotism and pride I feel are exactly what they felt.
Here’s an example of one of the earliest Independence Day celebrations that took place in Philadelphia back in 1777:
Yesterday the 4th of July, being the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, was celebrated in this city with demonstrations of joy and festivity. About noon all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colors of the United States and streamers displayed. At one o’ clock, the yards being properly manned, they began the celebration of the day by a discharge of thirteen cannons from each of the ships, and one from each of the thirteen gallies, in honor of the thirteen United States. The band of music attended and heightened the festivity with some fine performances suited to the joyous occasion.
After dinner, a number of toasts were drank, all breaking independence, and a generous love of liberty, and commemorating the memories of those brave and worthy patriots who gallantly exposed their lives, and fell gloriously in defense of freedom and the righteous cause of their country. Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery and small arms, and a suitable piece of music by the band. The glorious fourth of July was reiterated three times accompanied with triple discharges of cannons and small arms, and loud huzzahs that resounded from street to street throughout the city.
The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a ground 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. Thus, may the fourth of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.
So many generations have passed since that particular celebration. We all wear different clothes, play different games, and eat different food. More than anything, the flag looks much different now, having gone from thirteen stars to fifty.
But the emotions we feel are still the same. Our love of liberty hasn’t changed. We still commemorate the memories of “those brave and worthy who gallantly exposed their lives.”
And every 4th of July is still marked by the same expressions of joy and gladness.
Many years have passed since those early Americans. But for one day a year, the great span of time that separates us shrinks to the width of a thread. We are Americans, just as they were. All the differences between our lives and theirs vanish in importance. For one day at least, we are the same.
Wishing you and your family a safe and happy 4th of July.