- Carolyn Welch
A Visit to the Fourth of July in the 1800s ~
You may know that our Independence Day did not become an official federal holiday until 1941; but it was slated to become a celebration since July 3, 1776 when John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail . . .
"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 forevermore."
In 1815 a British observer remarked that it was "as though eight million Americans were invited to a national birthday." The United States was booming with growth and industry and July 4th became a date for the groundbreaking of many public works ceremonies to take place.
The following is an excerpt from an article on the National Park Service website:
"The Erie Canal was began on the fourth of July 1817 outside Rome, New York. In 1827 the new Ohio Canal opened in Cleveland with the governor in attendance that Independence day. President John Quincy Adams was the featured speaker at the ceremonies to begin construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on July 4, 1828. On July 4, 1848, the Washington Monument cornerstone was laid in the presence of President James Polk."
Click the image to visit the National Park Service website.
Patriotic toasting became an issue in the 1830s and 1840s causing a great deal of public drunkenness and adding kindle to the fire of the then popular temperance movement advocating moderation or no liquor consumption. It was common for fireworks and gunpowder blasts as well as cannon booms to celebrate; so cities began prohibiting these activities as well. This lead to the adoption of municipal fireworks displays to satisfy the public spirit to see bombs bursting in mid-air.
In the 1850s, folks began creating their own traditions to celebrate by enjoying parades with family, friends, and neighbors. Of course, this meant grand picnics and even excursions via hot air balloons, steamboat voyages, and carriage caravans to begin vacations in the countryside they loved so much.
An 1825 invitation to an Independence Day Party ~
Click the image for link to Wikipedia article.
In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees. Although Congress changed Independence Day to a paid federal holiday in 1838 and the legislation was passed in 1939, it did not become an official federal holiday until 1941.