Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!



I always am amazed by people who can’t recognize portraits of recent presidents like Richard Nixon, much less answer questions about American history. Many people ought to know why we celebrate the 4th of July. On that day in 1776, that members of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to adopt and sign the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. Some famous words from it: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

 John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, saying, "I believe that (the 4th) will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."

The following year in 1777, Philadelphia remembered the day by ringing bells, firing guns, lighting candles and setting off firecrackers. However, the War of Independence continued until Oct. 19, 1781 when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Most Fourth of July celebrations were modest, since American farmers suffered hardships until after the Americans again defeated the British in the War of 1812.

And then came the Civil War. Brother against brother, North against South. The Fourth of July figured big too – Robert E. Lee took his army into Pennsylvania in late June of 1863, hoping to wake up the North to the sufferings of his Southern people where most of the battles took place.  Within a few days they met Union forces near Gettysburg. Three days of intensive fighting, and the bloodiest battle ever fought in America – but on July 4th, Lee was forced to retreat.

But don’t forget the “west” – Vicksburg, Mississippi. Admiral David Farragut’s fleet fought to free the Mississippi for the Union from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico. Vicksburg held out, due to the high bluffs that protected the city. But General Ulysses S. Grant’s siege from May 19th bombarded the city from all sides. People escaped to caves, but the city was forced to surrender on the 4th of July, 1863. Vicksburg citizens banned celebrating the holiday for years.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, she recalled political officials who read the entire Declaration of Independence. This happened in cities and small towns across America, because many people had a rudimentary education, if any. By 1940, only half of the U.S. population had completed an eighth grade education. HALF – only up to the 8th grade! Consider the immigrants, the blacks who were discouraged from getting an education, and the rural areas with one-room schools and farming needs for family labor. Things have certainly improved in the last 70 years!

The Declaration of Independence is still read in cities and towns today. Speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks make the day special. The government was rather late in declaring it a federal holiday – Congress finally passed the bill in 1941. 

Since then, summer fun on the Fourth of July includes fireworks displays, parades and historical pageants, baseball, sun-bathing on the beach and swimming. The Boston Pops Orchestra always holds a concert on the Charles River bank, with John Philip Sousa marches and music by other American composers before ending with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that includes cannons and fireworks. Many locals watch on television, because the traffic is horrendous! The Lititz, Pennsylvania, candle festival, the longest continuous celebration of July 4th since 1813, has hundreds of candles floating in water and a contest to choose a "Queen of Candles.” Annapolis, Maryland, shuts down the streets after 3 p.m. for walkers, with fireworks at dusk over the U.S. Naval Academy, and restaurants staying open late.

Out west, an American Indian rodeo and three-day pow-wow used to take place in Flagstaff, Arizona, for fifty years until 1981. Nowadays, several groups hold pow-wows around July 4th in Massachusetts, New York, Missouri and Oklahoma.In Texas, according to one friend, unlicensed fireworks end up with a trip to the emergency room. It happens in Michigan, too, and across the country. Fireworks are best left to the professionals. But people across the country head to the nearest park, lake or beach to watch fireworks.

I’d be amiss not to mention Detroit’s late June “International Freedom Festival” in conjunction with Canada. They celebrate the July 1st date when their provinces joined together in 1867 under the British Empire. Three barges shoot fireworks on the Detroit River near the Renaissance Center, and people pack Belle Isle and the downtown streets of Detroit and Windsor to watch.

The 4th is always a great picnic day. The usual foods are burgers and dogs, chicken and ribs on the grill, cole slaw grilled or boiled corn on the cob, tossed salad, fruit salad, baked beans and potato salad, deviled eggs, apple pie, watermelon, strawberry shortcake and ice cream.

But don't forget the regional flavors that grilling can make adventurous!
Clambakes with clams, mussels, Maryland blue crabs, lobsters, oysters and smelt on the east coast… Grilled kielbasa, Italian sausage, bratwurst and S’Mores in the Midwest… Fried chicken, boiled crawfish, pulled pork, fry pies in the South…Pit-roasted pig, Jamaican ribs, tamales and grilled gator in Florida… 

Grilled gator?? Yep!

Bacon-wrapped jalapenos (ratas) or cream-cheese stuffed green chiles, smoked brisket, pork loin or turkey, buffalo burgers in the west… Sushi or grilled salmon on the Pacific coast…  It all adds up to YUM!

ENJOY your Fourth of July, whatever you have grilling on the "barbie" (heh heh, a touch of Aussie there), and remember to stay safe when handling fireworks of any kind. Even sparklers can cause serious burns.

If you drink, please use a designated driver.

However you celebrate, Happy Independence Day! And remember – America is worth celebrating!!

30 comments:

Jacquie Rogers said...

I had no idea that Independence Day wasn't a federal holiday until 1941! I remember the sack races, three-legged races, target competition, picnics (c'mon over and we'll burn some chicken), and of course the fireworks. We thought they were spectacular. After I moved to the city, I realized those fireworks were paltry in comparison. LOL But it's the joy that counts--that we're free to do all those things.

Lindsay said...

Actually the only people that signed the document that day were Thomas Jefferson, President of the Congress, and the secretary.

Kathleen said...

I imagine eating grilled gator would be a lot like eating grilled tire. The few times I've eaten alligator, my jaws got a workout. :-D

Thanks for posting this, Meg. Like Jacquie, I didn't realize the July 4 holiday went undeclared, at least at the federal level, until 1941.

I've always found it fascinating that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: July 4, 1826. The two of them and Charles Carroll of Carrollton were the only Declaration signatories alive at dawn on that date. Adams' last words reportedly were "Thomas Jefferson survives." Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died several hours earlier. (Carroll died in November 1832.)

Paty Jager said...

Fun post! We Americans do like to celebrate our independence. It is one holiday that has brought us all together for 236 years. Great info. Glad I'm not in a state that barbecues alligator!

Meg said...

I didn't either till I researched! Amazing that our history is so rich, and so worth remembering... the booms of fireworks when I was a kid are something I won't forget. My chest used to hurt, LOL. Not as much pretty colors in the sky but those booms always got me.

Meg said...

Isn't that interesting, Kathleen!! Wow. I hadn't dug that up - makes a great footnote.

Meg said...

LOL! I saw that pic and had to include it. And I hope to be alive to see the 250th anniversary! That would be cool. I remember 1976's extra fireworks and the tall ships, the TV coverage too.

Meg said...

You're right! They adopted it in July, but the signing didn't take place until August when the final draft was approved - with John Hancock, the President of the Congress, signing first. And not everyone signed even then, from what I read.

Meg said...

You mean grilled gator doesn't take like chicken?? ;-D

Kirsten Arnold said...

Very interesting post, Meg! It's amazing how what started as readings of the Declaration of Independence and picnics has turned into the all out celebrations that occur today, and how on this day, at least, we all band together as Americans celebrating our great nation.

--Kirsten

Kathleen said...

As far as I can tell, Meg, alligator cooked any style just plain doesn't taste. :-D

Devon Matthews said...

Thanks for a terrific and educational post, Meg! I've been to a barbeque where an old Cajun was doing the grilling and he had alligator tail, but I didn't try it. Couldn't bring myself to do it. Thanks for the great info and Happy 4th!!!

Ciara Gold said...

Spent this morning watching a program on the war for independence. Very enlightening as it's been awhile since I studied that part of American History. Great post, btw.

Our town usually does a really big fireworks display but not sure if they will today due the recent fire bans. We'll see. We can usually see the display from our house. We used to climb up on our roof for a better view. Getting a bit old for that but still....

Ellen O'Connell said...

Great post, Meg. I've never understood why American history doesn't fascinate and resonate with every American, and the Revolutionary War period and events leading up to and following are among the most fascinating. So many things had to coincide just so or the country would have been very different - or not have been.

Lyn Horner said...

I'm watching and listening to the Boston Pops concert right now. Love the patriotic songs, not so much some of the other stuff.

Meg, you did a phenomenal job on your post. I, too, never knew it took the government so long to declare July 4th a national holiday. Pretty disgraceful IMHO.

Ginger Simpson said...

Wonderful post. Tennessee has alwayss been big on fireworks. Big circus type tents can be seen on corners everywhere for July 4th and New Years Eve. There are big firework stores on the TN, GA border, and it's very common to see neighborhood displays. However this year, because of drought conditions and excessively high temps, any type of fireworks, outdoor burns and even grilling has been banned. Sort of put a damper on the celebration around here, but they expected thousands in Nashville for the "featured/controlled show", but we'll be satisfied to watch them on TV and avoid the traffic and congestion. Sadly, the steaks and burgers we'd planned, just didn't taste the same on our George Foreman grill. *lol* At least we didn't have gator. Yuk!

Alison E. Bruce said...

I've been trying to find the reference, but John Hancock didn't sign first, he just had the showiest signature. Since, at the time, he was signing his death warrant for treason if the rebels lost the war, Hancock deserves praise for doing it with such panache.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I love gator sausage! Though admittedly, sausage can make almost any meat palatable.

Alison E. Bruce said...

"Most Fourth of July celebrations were modest, since American farmers suffered hardships until after the Americans again defeated the British in the War of 1812."

Americans repulsed the British attack on New Orleans and Washington - which never would have happened in the first place if the USA hadn't tried to invade Canada (which we repulsed btw). True, the British had enacted a trade embargo against the US, but that was because Americans had allied themselves (however loosely) with France, which Britain was fighting.

Generally speaking, almost everyone involved (excepting the dead) won that war - including the British who were able to restore cordial ties with America. The big losers were the native peoples. The American government killed the idea of a British-sponsored Indian nation in the west.

Therein lies a whole other story.

Meg said...

Things are a bit murky with the details. I thought I read that somewhere, that he signed first, but who knows? ;-D Oh well, it's all pretty interesting! And yes, all the "rebels" were taking a chance on being hanged for "treason" to the English King. Serious stuff!

Meg said...

I can't wait for the 250th - hope I'm alive to see it! On TV, no doubt... lol

Meg said...

I'm with you on the tail -- despite my BA in Anthropology, I'm glad I didn't have to do 'field' work and eat weird stuff. LOL Just not into it. Not even real sushi! ;-D

Meg said...

My family went to see the Tigers - rain delay for 2 1/2 hours, we were pretty damp with wild wind and even hail! But the Tigers won, and the fireworks after were worth it! Not enjoying the extreme heat, though. Urgh. Wish some of this rain would go out west!

Meg said...

I always get a kick out of Jay Leno asking people (mostly in their 20s or 30s) about American history, and they have such blank looks or goofy answers!! Too bad people pay more attention to Snooki and such. LOL

Meg said...

LOL - no idea why it took so long. I didn't delve into that. I'm sure politics had something to do with it! I love the Boston Pops, but we went to the Tiger game instead - my fave music is Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture plus all of John Philip Sousa's marches for the 4th!

Meg said...

LOL!! Not adventuresome, I see - I hear ya! Wish I could send some of the rain down to you. This extreme heat is wacky. Up this far north in the Mitten, mid 80's is HOT. So 101 at the ball park was TOO HOT!!! lol The huge storm did cool things off a bit, but we still had terrible humidity. Sigh.

Meg said...

SOOOO TRUE, Alison! I'm no expert on the 1812 war - I only like the music (Star Spangled Banner, 1812 Overture), LOL. The native Americans lost big throughout the 1800s. And then the modern casinos (Indian and the competition in downtown Detroit and elsewhere) are a whole other story too! Hoo boy...

Meg said...

LOL! sooo true. Let's not ask what's in it...

Jeanne57 said...

As a kid, I remember watching the fireworks from our back yard as they were shot off from DRC (Detroit Race Course) in Livonia. Later, as a teenager, I used to go downtown with friends to watch the fireworks on the Detroit River. We'd find a place to park somewhere on Michigan Avenue, and walk down to the fountain near the RenCen.

When I was in the Air Force, stationed at Langley AFB in Virginia, we'd go to Fort Monroe, where the Army Band would hold a concert, capped off by the 1812 Overture, complete with Howitzers, and then a fireworks display.

Lots of good memories from when I was younger.

As a side note, a popular ad in America used to tell us "I'll put an extra shrimp on the barbie for ya," but we don't have shrimp here in Australia; we have prawns... LOL

Jeanne57 said...

We fired our guns, but the British kept a comin'
Though there weren't so many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they commenced to runnin'
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico---Battle of New Orleans