Long before the famous Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest and the lavish Macy’s fireworks display, Fourth of July celebrations looked very different from how they do today.
The Declaration of Independence, which was drafted in 1776 by the nation’s founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, declared America’s independence from Great Britain.
The first Fourth of July celebration was held in Philadelphia the following year, when the United States of America turned one.
Ships lined up on the Delaware River and fired 13 cannon shots to mark the new found independence of 13 states.
But it didn’t end there. Although he claimed in a letter to his daughter Abigail Adams that he was “too old to delight in pretty descriptions,” John Adams, the second president of the United States and chairman of the marine committee at the time, still detailed the celebrations in some detail to her.
Adams reported from the Delaware Frigate, an armed ship that participated in the American Revolutionary War, that “the wharves and shores, were lined with a vast concourse of people, all shouting and huzzaing, in a manner which gave great joy to every friend of this country, and the utmost terror and dismay to every lurking tory.”
John Hancock, another Declaration of Independence signer, and representatives of the Marine Committee accompanied him. At three they sat down to dine while being entertained by a band of captured Hessians.
According to what he wrote, “the toasts were in honor of our country and the heroes who have died in their valiant efforts to defend her.”
He described it as “the most splendid illumination” he had ever seen. “In the evening, I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise, and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows,” he recalled.
Adams claimed he was astounded by the widespread celebration he saw, even though the concept of celebrating the day was not thought of until the second of July in 1777 and was not spoken out until the third.
Although the Fourth of July was spectacular, Adams disagreed with other founding fathers on the appropriate time to commemorate American independence.
The National Constitution Center states that since the Continental Congress proclaimed independence from Great Britain on July 2, Adams thought that day to be the correct date. But it took two days to write the declaration announcing this independence.
Adams and Jefferson, the two early presidents who were friends and occasionally enemies, disagreed about the date. They both unexpectedly passed away on July Fourth, 1826.