Friday, July 6, 2012

Intern's Corner: Independence Day

The Fourth of July
By Mark Relation, DLAR Intern

          Almost since that day in 1776 itself, the Fourth of July was recognized as one of the nation’s most important holidays.  As early as 1793, it was referred to as “America’s Birthday,” and was celebrated nationwide with martial displays, parades, public and private dinners, formal speeches by leading figures, and fireworks.  The “truly American Festival” served to connect people across the country to their common revolutionary past, and helped foster a larger sense of Americanism that helped keep the young nation together in its early years.  Without the long and storied tradition of the older nations of Europe, America desperately needed some unifying nationalistic sentiment to pull people together, and fight the sectionalism and regional conflict abundant in the early Republic.  In the first few generations following the Revolution, the celebration of the Fourth was a dignified affair, taken very seriously by participants. 

          One account from Oakham MA details the proceedings of the Fourth of July celebrations of 1797, where the whole town and many members of the surrounding communities gathered together to celebrate with the local veterans.  The proceedings opened with a prayer service and speech from the local priest, followed by a meal at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The festivities culminated in a large procession of the veterans through town and much ceremony as each individual unit represented fired off its salute for those gathered.  A few years after 1797, one of the veterans preparing to fire off his musket accidentally left his ramrod in the barrel, propelling it across the park and into the roof of the village hotel some distance away. 

          However, by 1826, the 50 year anniversary, the Fourth was starting to lose some of its immediacy and function as a unifying force in American nationalism.  By that point, America was rapidly diversifying both culturally and geographically, with Manifest Destiny already in full swing.  As people moved west, cultures were created and redefined, and America as an idea began to take on new meaning, and the unifying force of the Fourth was not quite as prevalent.  But this is not to say that the Fourth lost its significance place in American ideology.  Over the next two centuries, America would face great challenges, and the language of the founders and the political and emotional force of the Fourth would be used to inspire and guide the American people through thick and thin, as it still does today.
Travers, Len. Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1997. Print.  p. 3-11.
Wright, Henry P. Independence Day in 1797 in Oakham, Massechussetts. Oakham: Oakham Historical Society, 1911. Print.  p. 4-14.

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