The Fourth of July America’s Oldest Tradition

240+ years of fireworks, barbeques, picnics & parades to celebrate the tendering of this document that created a new nation.

Our Founding Fathers, immigrants or sons of, made America the land of opportunity. America’s been great ever since.

A Founding Father from Massachusetts, John Adams, soon to be the second president of the United States of America, actually had a firm grasp of what he and his colleagues had wrought. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

The second 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 solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from the one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Hold on: July 2, 1776? No typo. That was the date that the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. Raising their fists to Great Britain, the world’s dominant power, was an act of enormous courage.

Two days later, on July 4, after debate of some revisions of Thomas Jefferson’s prose, the Declaration of Independence was approved. Honest mistake.

Thomas Jefferson & John Adams

Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams make a great 4th of July story. They were once political foes who fought to succeed George Washington as president of the fledgling nation. In 1796, it was Adams’ turn to continue Federalist Party governance. Thomas Jefferson, a Democrat-Republican, became Adams’ vice president.

Jefferson was soon plotting to win the 1800 presidential election.

It was a remarkably bitter contest (slander!), with Jefferson emerging victorious and making Adams a one-term president. The election of 1800 is significant because it was our country’s first peaceful transfer of power between political parties. It’s been peaceful ever since.

Old Foes Go Out together, July 4, 1826

After Jefferson served two terms (1801-1809), he sent word that he would like to reunite with “a fellow laborer in the same cause.” Adams responded affirmatively. Historians estimate that, between 1812 and 1826, about 158 letters were exchanged between Adams and Jefferson.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams, then 90 years old, lay on his deathbed while the country he helped found celebrated Independence Day. Adams’ last words were, Thomas Jefferson still survives. John Adams was mistaken. Jefferson at age 82 had died at Monticello five hours earlier.

Philly Throws a Great First Fourth

In the year 1777, on the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, my hometown of Philadelphia threw a party that modern Americans would find quite familiar. There was

…an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews [we were at war, after all] and fireworks. Ships in port were decked in red, white and blue bunting.

The music accompanying 4th of July festivities during that time were patriotic songs that memorialized battles and generals. One song that survived the centuries was Yankee Doodle:

Yankee Doodle keep It up
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

Well, let it be known throughout the land that “we, the people” have gotten a little more creative with our music-making. I offer two videos as proof.

America: A Land of Immigrants

The first song was written by the great Woody Guthrie in 1940 (actually recorded in 1944 by Folkways Records) as a progressive alternative to “God Bless America.” The song, “This Land is Your Land,” is sung by another music icon, Pete Seeger, on the occasion of Seeger’s 90th birthday, May 3, 2009 (he died in 2014). The performance, on January 19, 2009, was part of President Obama’s first inaugural ceremonies. The video is published by fful, copyright by HBO and courtesy of YouTube:

The second song, “Sailing to Philadelphia,” is off Mark Knopfler’s second solo album released in September 2000. It is a duet between Knopfler and James Taylor, who play two English surveyors pondering moving to America, this supposed land of opportunity.  The lyrics reveal what Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon accomplish in the new world (Hint: their last names). It affirms what should be obvious to all: America is great because it is a land of immigrants. Published by Moncef Kahia and courtesy of YouTube:

Have a happy 4th of July!

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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