Unusual Facts About the 4th of July
No Party the First Year
How many actual signers did the Declaration of Independence have in 1776?
Surprisingly, the correct answer is "Only two."
The Continental Congress of the United States of America adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776 with only two signers to the document.
In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams predicted that July 2nd would soon become an American national holiday.
Bigger Than Mardi Gras?
For a several years I marched in 4th of July Parades as lead trumpet for a marching band (in wool uniforms!) and as part of civic groups.
We always had fun, no matter how hot and sunburned some of us ended. Picnics and cookouts followed and the evening always concluded with fireworks displays all over town from July 1 - July 8.
The celebration was always a week long, with parades, special sales at all the stores, parties, speeches, war memorial presentations, and a lot more.
Some folks forgot about the Revolutionary War and why we fought it and most assumed that the first big July 4th Party was held on 07/04/1776; but, it didn't happen.
The Second of July
On that first July 2, the Declaration of Independence was only a draft, signed only by two men: 1) Secretary of Congress Charles Thompson and 2) Congressional Leader John Hancock.
A revision was written by July 4, 1776, it was printed, and then the new version was sent to each of the US States and all military officers.
It still had only two signatures.
People generally ignored the Declaration of Independence as old news. After all, it had only two signatures.
John Adams thought it was frivolous and boring. In his words, he stated, "...dress and ornament rather than Body, Soul, or Substance."
Thus the Declaration was initially disrespected and ignored, even by leaders of the country.
Slow Proclamation Around the Country
No actual celebration occurred in America for her Independence that first year until after mid-July! The first celebration was like a small corner of the August Buckeye Lake Corn Fest in Ohio, rather than a national holiday.
Only one newspaper of the day printed the Declaration of Independence - this was The Philadelphia Evening Post - and not until July 6.
The Declaration was read aloud from the Philadelphia State House, but not until July 8. Later on the same date, the Declaration was also read aloud as a proclamation in Easton, PA, Trenton, NJ, and to some militiamen around those areas. On July 6 and 8, there were some instances of shouting for joy and some rifles fired, but not much of either. There was no big celebration.
However, as the days passed and finally became weeks, the US Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in full readings around the 13 New States - at town meetings and even during religious services (where did separation of church and state begin?).
The Second Year: July 4, 1777
All of this took some time to come about, given that horses were the only means of transportation, so July 4th Celebrations emerged slowly. During mid-July, US residents began to light a few celebratory bonfires, fired some more rifles, rang church bells, and scrapped any symbol of England and the King that they could find. No fireworks.
In 1777, no government official at all thought about celebrating the Declaration of Independence and freedom from British rule - until July 3rd, a day late. The thought never occurred to anyone before that and no documentation of such an 18th century thought has yet been uncovered in the 21st century.
Rushing around to save face, a celebration was thrown together for July 4, 1777 in Philadelphia, home of the US Congress and the New Nation's first Capitol. Tall ships in the harbor were gallantly decorated in red, white and blue. Several 13-gun salutes were shot to honor the original 13 Colonies that became 13 US States. Finally, there were parades and fireworks (alas, from England). After 1816, the US started domestic manufacturing of fireworks so that they no longer had to buy them form the UK.
Thus, The US declared July 4 to be a national holiday in 1777. Each year, festivities became more gala and huge. In 1976, an outsized celebration in NYC included several 100 Elvis impersonators dancing and singing in front of the Statues of Liberty. In 200 years, we changed our image form Freedom Fighters for Justice and Liberty, to purveyors of Disneyland and Rock and Roll.
Was it a step up?
France has likely wanted to take back their Statue of Liberty from the "gauche" Americans, Lady Liberty given to us in 1876. But, even then, manufacturing and capitalism had taken a firm grip on America.
Other July 4th Information
- On July 4, 1826 our Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died.
- In 1831 President James Monroe also died on that holiday.
- Born on the 4th of July! - Besides Jimmy Cagney's and George M. Cohan's Yankee Doodle Dandy, President Calvin Coolidge was born on that fortuitous date (in 1872).
Movies About or Opening on a July Fourth
- HANCOCK, Starring Will Smith. A new type of All American hero.
- INDEPENDENCE DAY - ID4, Starring Will Smith
- ROCKY (1975, Rocky "again" 1985): Sylvester Stallone - Champions' matches on the 4th of July in Philadelphia.
- Born on the Fourth of July: Biography of a US Vietnam veteran - Starring Tom Cruise.
- 1776 (released in 1972): Stars Ken Howard and William Daniels
- The Music Man: Stars Robert Preston with "76 Trombones"
- :Ideals of the Declaration" mentioned in Harper Lee's novel filmed as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
- The Stars and Stripes Forever: Stars Clifton Webb and Robert Wagner
- Johnny Tremain: A film of the Civil War.
- The Fighting Sullivans, 1944
- Yankee Doodle Dandy: Starring James Cagney in 1942; written by George M. Cohan, really born on July 4.
Films Especially for Younger Kids:
- This is America, Charlie Brown
- Paul Revere: Midnight Ride
- All American Tail
- All Aboard America
The real George M. Cohan and Jimmy Durante appeared in "Wave the Flag" a 1932 film that features a minstrel show:
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS