Independence Day

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Independence Day over the Liberty Bell

As every American knows, Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Four days later the people of Philadelphia celebrated the event with a parade, a bonfire, and volleys of gunfire. "The bells rang all day and almost all night," wrote John Adams.

Philadelphians observed the first anniversary similarly, with the addition of band music, fireworks, flags, a banquet, and a naval display. Adams reported that after sundown all the city's residents lighted candles in their windows. "I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly houses were dark, but the lights were very universal." The darkened windows, presumably of Royalist sympathizers, were the targets of rock-throwers. (The First Amentment was still fourteen years in the future.) By July 4, 1788, with ten states having ratified the Declaration, annual celebrations became general among Americans everywhere.

July 4, 1803: The National Intelligencer confirmed the rumor. "The executive have received official information that a Treaty was signed on the 30th of April, between the mInisters Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of the United States and the Minister plenipotentiary of the French government, by which the United States have obtained the full right to and sovereignty over New Orleans, and the whole of Louisiana, as Spain possessed the same." That momentous disclosure gave the celebration a special focus in Washington, D.C. On the fifth Meriwether Lewis set out for Pittsburgh, hoping to start down the Ohio River later that month.

July 4, 1804: The expedition, having been underway for 52 days, camped near today's Atchison, Kansas. Sergeant Patrick Gass recorded:

We fired a swivel at sunrise in honour of the day, and continued our voyage. . . . After dinner we renewed our voyage, and passed a creek on the north side, which we called Independence, encamped . . . saluted the departing day with another gun.

July 4, 1805: The arduous portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River finally done, Lewis wrote:

. . . we gave the men a drink of sperits, it being the last of our stock, and some of them appeared a little sensible of it's effects. The fiddle was plyed and they danced very merrily untill 9 in the evening when a heavy shower of rain put an end to that part of the amusement tho they continued their mirth with songs and festive jokes and were extreemly merry untill late at night. We had a very comfortable dinner of bacon, beans, suit dumplings & buffaloe beaf &c. In short we had no just cause to covet the sumptuous feasts of our countrymen on this day.

July 4, 1806: William Clark, en route from Travelers' Rest to Camp Fortunate, camped on the upper Bitterroot River.

This being the day of the decleration of Independence of the United States and a Day commonly Scelebrated by my Country I had every disposition to Selebrate this day and therefore halted early and partook of a Sumptious Dinner of a fat Saddle of Venison and Mush of Cows [roots].

Meriwether Lewis, headed toward the Great Falls of the Missouri, bade farewell to his Nez Perce guides and camped on the lower Blackfoot River. He didn't mention Independence Day in his journal, but recorded an evening which itself was worth a celebration—"fine, air pleasent, and no mosquetoes."