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Fourth of July
From Thomas Jefferson's correspondence and the writings of other contemporary observers, Monticello researchers have compiled the following primary source references to the Fourth of July.
Primary Source References
1786 July 9. (James Currie to Jefferson). "We Celebrated Independence here [Richmond] tother day by eating an Excellent dinner at Anderson’s Tavern and drinking a number of proper toasts. We had the Band of Music, the discharge of Cannon, colors flying, &c. &c., manifesting our joy."1
1788 July 17. (Francis Hopkinson to Jefferson). "Nothing can equal the Rejoicings in the Cities, Towns and Villages thro'out the States on the late fourth of July in Celebration of the Declaration of Independence and the Birth of the new Constitution. The Papers are fill'd with Accounts of Processions, Toasts &c. As a Specimen, I enclose the Exertions of Philadelphia on this Occasion."2
1788 August 30. (John Brown Cutting to Jefferson). "On the 4th of July we are told a riot was excited at Albany .... (while a large number of the fœderalists of Albany were testifying their joy at the return of an anniversary whereon they cou’d at once celebrate the birthday of the empire and the event of the recent ratification of Virginia) .... The magnificent procession of five thousand citizens of Philadelphia on the 4th of July in honor of the day—of a new Æra—and of the ten states which had already contributed to establish it was a spectacle so singularly splendid that I am not surprized to see it copied even into english newspapers. Mr. Paine promises to hand you Mr. Hopkinsons pictured description of it."3
1788 September 9. (Thomas Paine to Jefferson). "I enclose you a Philadelphia Paper 10 of July having the account of the Procession of the 4th of that month. An Arrival from Philadelphia which left it the 26th."4
1788 September 22. (Thomas Shippen to Jefferson). "He [Shippen's father] speaks to me of the immense preparations they were making for the celebration of the 4th of July in Philada. and tells me that the expence of them was computed at £1500, a circumstance which gives me a mixed sensation of pleasure and pain, pain to think of the extravagance of the times which could call for such an expenditure, pleasure to know that my fellow citizens were ab[le] to afford it. However the former preponderat[es.]"5
1788 December 16. (Thomas Paine to Jefferson). "I also wrote you a long letter of (I believe) 14 or 16 pages, enclosing a Philadelphia News paper with the account of the Procession on the 4th. of July. I requested Mr. Bartholemy to enclose it in his dispatches which he promised me to do. This is about ten weeks ago."6
1789 July 5. (Jefferson to John Paradise). "I concur with my friends in congratulations on the anniversary return of the independance and happiness of our country. May these be as many as I believe they will!"7
1791 July 12. (James Maury to Jefferson). "The 4th Instant being observed by most of our Countrymen in this port [Liverpool] as an Holiday, the Crewes of many of their Vessells collected together and getting too much Drink behaved in most disorderly and disrespectful Manner to the people of the Country, which had well nigh been attended with very serious Consequences. Happily it terminated otherwise. It will however be a Caution on future Occasions."8
1801-1808 July 4. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "During his administration it was in truth a gala-day in our city."10
1803 August 30. (Jefferson to Levi Lincoln). "[D]isapproving myself of transferring the honours & veneration for the great birth-day of our republic, to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, & have engaged my family not to communicate it. "11
1806 July 1. (Jefferson to Thomas Digges). "He [Jefferson] will be happy to see mr Digges & his friends on the 4th. of July, and to join in congratulations on the return of the day which divorced us from the follies & crimes of Europe, from a dollar in the pound at least of 600. millions sterling, & from all the ruin of mr Pitt’s administration."12
1808 July 5. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph). "I thank heaven that the 4th. of July is over. it is always a day of great fatigue to me, and of some embarrasments from improper intrusions and some from unintended exclusions."14
1809 July 4. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "The fourth of July, the epoch of American independence, is a day when the heart of every American must glow with pride and gratitude. No village, however sequestered, no citizen, however obscure, forgets the celebration of the anniversary of his country's liberty! Through all the land, from the shores of the Atlantic to our mountain-tops, the sounds of gratulation are heard; the roar of cannon, and the peal of bells, announce the auspicious morn, and people of every rank hasten with their festive offerings round the altar of liberty."15
1820 July 4. (Elizabeth House Trist to Nicholas P. Trist). "This being the anniversary of our independence I presume you will Celebrate the day at West Point. Mr. Jefferson had an invitation to a barbecue near Charlottesville which he declined as he had long given up attending these festivals."16
1821 September 12. (Jefferson to John Adams). "[A]nd even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. in short, the flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776 have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism. on the contrary they will consume these engines, and all who work them."17
1823 June 25. (Jefferson to Messrs. Pannil, McRae and Pollard). "[T]he continued repetition of these commemorations thro' ages to come, and the faithful preservation, pure and unchanged, of the spirit of that great day which gave them birth, will be themes of unceasing prayer with me."18
1823 August 30. (Jefferson to James Madison). "[B]ut to cherish the principles of the instrument in the bosoms of our own citizens: and it is a heavenly comfort to see that these principles are yet so strongly felt as to render a circumstance so trifling as this little lapse of memory of mr Adams worthy of being solemnly announced and supported at an anniversary assemblage of the nation on it’s birthday. In opposition however to mr Pickering, I pray God that these principles may be eternal."19
1823 September 4. (Jefferson to John Adams). "I observe your toast of mr Jay on the 4th of July, wherein you say that the omission of his signature to the Declaration of Independence was by accident. our impressions as to this fact being different, I shall be glad to have mine corrected of wrong."20
1825 November 14. (Jefferson to Ellen Randolph Coolidge). "I recieved a letter from a friend in Philadelphia lately, asking information of the house, and room of the house there, in which the Declaration of Independance was written, with a view to future celebrations of the 4th of July in it. ... now I happen still to possess the writing-box on which it was written. ... mr Coolidge must do me the favor of accepting this. it’s imaginary value will increase with years, and if he lives to my age, or another half century, he may see it carried in the procession of our nation’s birth day, as the relics of the saints are in those of the church."21
1826 June 24. (Jefferson to Roger Weightman). "The kind invitation I recieve from you on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the 50th anniversary of American independance; as one of the surviving signers of an instrument, pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposal for the comfort of such a journey. it adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. ... I should indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there, congratulations personally, with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us, on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make, for our country, between submission, or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. ... for ourselves let the annual return of this day, for ever refresh our recollections of these rights and an undiminished devotion to them."22
- Burstein, Andrew. America's Jubilee. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2001.
- Heintze, James R. The Fourth of July Encyclopedia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. See also Heintze's Fourth of July Celebrations Database.
- Travers, Len. Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
- University of Missouri Digital Library. "A Collection of Fourth of July Speeches from the Special Collections of Ellis Library - University of Missouri-Columbia." A collection of "published pamphlets of addresses made on Independence Day from 1791-1925."
- Look for further sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.
- 1. PTJ, 10:110. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 2. PTJ, 13:370. Transcription available at Founders Online. See PTJ, 13:371n, for "the Exertions of Philadelphia this Occasion."
- 3. PTJ, 13:549, 13:551. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. PTJ, 13:589. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. PTJ, 13:629. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. PTJ, 14:363. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. PTJ, 15:242. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also A Fourth of July Tribute to Jefferson, July 4, 1789, in PTJ, 15:239-41. Transcription available at Founders Online. Jefferson's letter to Paradise was written in response to that tribute, hand delivered by Paradise on behalf of a group of American citizens residing in Paris.
- 8. PTJ, 20:621. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 9. Smith, First Forty Years, 398.
- 10. Smith, First Forty Years, 398. A detailed description of the festivities follows, including the martial music, troop review, crowds and booths, reception and public dinner. See pp. 398-400; see also pp. 30-31 and 38-39 for Smith's further descriptions of July 4 celebrations.
- 11. PTJ, 41:290. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 12. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also L&B, 11:113.
- 13. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Family Letters, 346. For a description of Charlottesville's celebration, including a picnic, barbecue, fireworks, and speeches, see Richmond Enquirer, July 26, 1808.
- 14. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Family Letters, 347.
- 15. Margaret Bayard Smith, A Winter in Washington or Memoirs of the Seymour Family (New York: Bliss and E. White, 1824), 3:215.
- 16. Papers of Nicholas Philip Trist, Library of Congress.
- 17. Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams (Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 2:575.
- 18. Tucker-Coleman Papers: Series 2 Thomas Jefferson Correspondence, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Recipient's copy available online at the William & Mary Digital Archive. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 19. Papers of James Madison, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also James Morton Smith, ed., The Republic of Letters (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), 3:1876-77.
- 20. Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Ford, 12:311.
- 21. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Accession #12141, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Family Letters, 461-62.
- 22. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Ford, 12:476-77.
- 23. Randall, Life, 3:546.