A Capitol Fourth - America's Independence Day Celebration
The Concert History of the Fourth Patriotic Reflections Fireworks and Fun

Old Glory
July 4th Over the Years
Pierre L'Enfant and the National Mall Sousa: The March King Explore America's Past
Patriotic Notes and Quotes
What the Fourth Means to You

History of the Fourth



Today, Americans from coast to coast spend July Fourth celebrating our nation's independence and the freedoms we enjoy as a result. Over the years, many important events have occurred on this day. The following are some of the most historic.

1778 – From his headquarters in Brunswick, N.J., General George Washington directs his army to put "green boughs" in their hats, issues them a double allowance of rum and orders a Fourth of July artillery salute.

1781 – The first official state celebration occurs in Massachusetts.

1787 – John Quincy Adams celebrates July Fourth in Boston, where he hears an oration delivered at the Old Brick Meeting House.

1788 – July Fourth celebrations first become political as factions fight over the adoption of the Federal Constitution.

1791 – The only Fourth of July address ever made by George Washington takes place at Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

1798 – George Washington attends the celebration in Alexandria, Virginia, and dines with a large group of citizens and military officers of Fairfax County. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the keel of the 20-gun sloop of the war vessel Portsmouth is laid.

1800 – In New York City, the first local advertisements for fireworks appear. At the Mount Vernon Garden there, a display of "a model of General Washington's Mount Vernon home, 20 feet long by 24 feet high, illuminated by several hundred lamps" is presented. In Hanover, N.H., Dartmouth College student Daniel Webster gives his first Fourth of July oration in the town's meetinghouse.

1801 – The first public Fourth of July reception at the White House occurs.

1804 – The first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi happens at Independence Creek, Idaho, and is celebrated by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

1805 – Boston has its first fireworks display.

1819 – An early and rare example of an Independence Day oration is presented (to a group of women) by a woman ("Mrs. Mead") on July 3 at Mossy Spring in Kentucky.

1821 – President James Monroe is ill, and the Executive Mansion is closed to the public. John Quincy Adams reads an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a ceremony at the Capitol.

1825 – President John Q. Adams marches to the Capitol from the White House in a parade that includes a stage mounted on wheels, representing 24 states.

1826 – The 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated (referred to as the "Jubilee of Freedom" event). Two signers of the document, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both die on this July 4.

1827 – The State of New York emancipates its slaves.

1828 – Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, participates in a Baltimore, MD., celebration and assists in the laying of the "first stone" of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

1831 – Former President James Monroe dies on July 4.

1832 – New York has a subdued Fourth of July celebration due to a cholera epidemic.

1835 – In Boston, George Robert Twelves Hewes, a shoemaker, is honored at a celebration as the last survivor of the Boston Tea Party. The "National Intelligencer" prints the text of "Washington's Farewell Address."

1848 – In Washington, D.C., the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument takes place with the President James Madison, First Lady Dolly Madison and other VIPs in attendance.

1851 – In Washington, D.C., President Millard Fillmore assists in the laying of the "cornerstone of the new Capitol edifice," while Senator Daniel Webster gives his last Fourth of July oration there.

1852 – In Rochester, NY., on July 5, abolitionist Frederick Douglass presents his famous speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

1861 – President Abraham Lincoln sends an address to both houses of Congress regarding the suspension of federal government functions by secessionists in the South.

1866 – General George G. Meade watches 10,000 war veterans parade in Philadelphia. General William T. Sherman gives an address in Salem, IL.

1868 – President Andrew Johnson issues his Third Amnesty Proclamation in Washington, D.C. directed to those who participated in the Civil War.

1873 – Mark Twain gives a Fourth of July address in London.

1876 – Centennial celebrations are held throughout the United States and abroad.

1879 – Frederick Douglass addresses the citizens of Frederick, MD.

1880 – General James A. Garfield is guest speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument in Painesville, Ohio. In Boston, a statue of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams is unveiled. In San Francisco, the first daytime fireworks ever exhibited in the country takes place at Woodward's Gardens.

1881 – In Washington, D.C., the Chief of Police issues an order banning all fireworks due to the shooting of President Garfield; At the same time, prayer meetings for the President's recovery are held in lieu of July Fourth celebrations throughout the country.

1884 – The formal presentation of the Statue of Liberty takes place in the Gauthier workshop in Paris.

1889 – President Benjamin Harrison gives a speech in Woodstock, CT; he is the third President to be in Woodstock on July 4.

1899 – Governor Theodore Roosevelt gives a speech at his hometown, Oyster Bay, NY., as other speakers predict he will be the next president. In Plymouth, England, all British warships are decorated with flags and a 21-gun salute is fired. Mark Twain addresses the American Society at a dinner in London.

1902 – Two hundred thousand people hear President Theodore Roosevelt give a speech in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.

1910 – A bronze statue of George Washington is unveiled at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

1912 – The new national flag with 48 stars is "formally and officially endowed."

1915 – Orator and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan gives a speech on "Universal Peace" in Philadelphia.

1916 – In Washington, D.C., President Woodrow Wilson gives a speech at the dedication of the new American Federation of Labor building.

1919 – One of the peaks in the Black Hills near Deadwood, SD., is renamed Mount Theodore Roosevelt in honor of the former president. Panama celebrates its first official Fourth of July.

1921 – A large anti-prohibition parade takes place in New York, and British music and jazz are forbidden as 50 bands march in an American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic parade.

1923 – President Warren G. Harding addresses citizens of Portland, OR., and is initiated into the Cayuse Tribe at the Oregon Trail Celebration.

1926 – The 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence takes place throughout the nation.

1930 – Gutzon Borgium's 60-foot face of George Washington is carved on Mount Rushmore in Keystone, SD.

1940 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially turns over to the federal government the library bearing his name.

1942 – Fireworks in most cities are canceled due to war blackouts.

1946 – Americans observe the first peacetime Fourth of July in five years, as occupation troops celebrate with parades and artillery salutes in Germany and Japan.

1947 – In Washington, D.C., the July Fourth ceremony at the monument grounds is televised for the first time.

1959 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower gives a speech and lays the third cornerstone in the 166-year history of the U.S. Capitol. The 49-star American flag waves for the first time as Alaska achieves statehood.

1960 – The 50-star American flag waves for the first time as Hawaii is granted statehood.

1961 – In Philadelphia, the flag that flies continuously over the grave of Betsy Ross (this country's first American flag-maker) is stolen.

1964 – A recorded reading of the Declaration of Independence by slain President John F. Kennedy is broadcast over radio airwaves. In Prescott, AZ., Senator Barry Goldwater rides a horse in the annual Frontier Days Rodeo parade.

1966 – President Lyndon Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act into law.

1968 – Anti-war demonstrations mar speeches given by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Philadelphia and Governor George Wallace in Minneapolis.

1974 – A reenactment of the Frederick Douglass speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" takes place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

1976 – The nation's Bicentennial is celebrated across America. At 2:00 pm Eastern time, the time the Declaration of Independence was originally approved, churches and citizens throughout the nation ring bells to mark the occasion. "Operation Sail" takes place in New York City harbor, where millions watch hundreds of ships, representing 22 nations, parade. In Boston, the USS Constitution fires her cannons for the first time in 95 years. Over the course of the day, the largest number of American flags (10,471) ever flown at one time, fly over the U.S. Capitol. President Gerald Ford gives a speech at Valley Forge, PA.

1980 – Throughout the country, the July Fourth is observed amid somber recognition of the 53 American citizens held hostage in Iran; residents in Cleveland plant 53 trees in the hostages' memory.

1981 – President Reagan, recovering from an assassin's bullet, leaves George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C. for the first time to view the fireworks at the Mall.

1982 – President Reagan gives a welcome speech for astronauts Thomas K. Mattingly and Henry W. Hartsfield as they land the space shuttle Columbia at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

1992 – The seven astronauts on the shuttle Columbia unfurl the Stars and Stripes and chant "Happy Birthday, America" from space. The Navy unveils a new aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney giving a speech.

1993 – Johnny Cash recites his patriotic poem "Rugged Old Flag" in Washington, D.C. while citizens there hold flags in honor of prisoners of war and servicemen missing in action from the Vietnam War.

1996 – Astronauts in space on the shuttle Columbia send Fourth of July greetings.

1999 – In Philadelphia, 112 people, all born on the Fourth of July since 1900, gather in front of Independence Hall for a "Photo of the Century."

2000 – "Operation Sail 2000," the largest assemblage of ships ever at one event, takes place in New York City. It includes some 150 tall sailing ships from more than 20 nations and an 11-mile line of more than two dozen naval ships from around the world.

2001 – Public readings of the Declaration of Independence take place throughout the country, including the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the Art Museum in Philadelphia and the Old State House in Boston. From the International Space Station, astronauts proclaim "We give thanks to our ancestors ... to all Americans, Happy Independence Day."

2002 – The most intense security precautions in the history of the Fourth of July take place across the country in light of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001; Americans celebrate anyway, voicing their jubilation about freedoms enjoyed in this country.

2003 – In Tikrit, Iraq, U.S. soldiers celebrate the July Fourth with a cookout at Saddam Hussein's hometown palace; Philadelphia's new National Constitution Center opens; due to the threat of forest fires, the use of fireworks in New Mexico and other areas in the West is curtailed.

2004 – The cornerstone of the Freedom Tower is laid on the site of the World Trade Center, with speaker New York Governor George E. Pataki. In Miami, a group of servicemen representing various branches of the armed forces become American citizens in a moving ceremony.

2005 – In what is described as the biggest Fourth of July blast ever, NASA slams its two-stage 820-pound spacecraft called Deep Impact into the comet Tempel 1; in Philadelphia U.S. Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Philadelphia Mayor John street present the City of Brotherly Love Humanitarian Award to Elton John.

2006 – The first ever launch of a space shuttle on Independence Day occurs when shuttle Discovery lifts off at Kennedy Space Center and Stephanie D. Wilson is the second African American female to go to space. U.S. military veterans participate in ceremonies and parades across the country and a B-1 bomber flyover takes place at Mount Rushmore on July 3. Soldiers wounded in Iraq publicly read portions of the Declaration of Independence at a ceremony held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

2007 – This is a day for citizenship ceremonies: 1000 individuals from 75 countries take citizenship oath at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, F.L.; 51 take citizenship oath at the William Paca House in Annapolis; at Camp Victory in Iraq, 161 soldiers are naturalized as American citizens, 76 people are sworn in at Monticello. At 2 p.m., all U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships ring 13 bells in honor of the 13 original states. A wreath-laying ceremony takes place at the tomb of George Washington at Mount Vernon.

2008 – In Indianapolis, a 33rd annual old-fashioned ice cream social is held at the President Benjamin Harrison House. In this presidential election year, democratic candidate Barack Obama is in Butte, M.T., at an Independence Day picnic. In Dover, Del., a dedication ceremony for a Dover Light Infantry Monument, representing the Company's distinguished service during the Revolutionary War, takes place.

2009 – Numerous cities cancel fireworks and curtail other events due to the recession and resulting budget cuts. The crown of the Statue of Liberty in New York City opens to the public for the first time since closing Sept. 11, 2001, and seven individuals are sworn in as new citizens there. Mount Vernon has daylight fireworks. Historic flags from 1870 to1895 and a 29-foot flag flown for a visit by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889 are on display at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, C.T.

2010 – Oil cleanup crews work on July 4 to remove oil from the massive Gulf Coast spill; local hotels and businesses suffer greatly from lack of visitors. Bangor, M.A., holds a "100 Years of Boy Scouting" event. Two horses run loose in a parade in Bellevue, I.A., resulting in one death and injuries to many.

2011 – A bronze statue of Ronald Reagan is unveiled in London to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. 77 individuals at Monticello, and 100 (from 41 countries) at Mount Vernon are naturalized. Four American astronauts arrive at NASA's Kennedy Space Center as they prepare for America's final shuttle trip.

2012 – Close to 11 million viewers enjoyed the television broadcast of A Capitol Fourth.

Source: James R. Heintze. Librarian, American University, Washington, D.C.