Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

4th of July – Celebrating American Independence in Washington

Washington began celebrating the 4th of July as Independence Day in 1801: see https://matthewbgilmore.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/district-of-columbias-first-4th-of-july-1801/

“Free and unreserved” expression despite fiercely divided opinion was much hoped for:

The definitive web resources bibliography on the July 4 /Independence Day was compiled by James R. Heintze. It seems to have been retired by American University but is still available through Internet Archive–click; https://web.archive.org/web/20181118221848/http://gurukul.american.edu/heintze/fourth.htm AND https://web.archive.org/web/20010117043100/http://gurukul.american.edu/heintze/DC.htm

Some Washington DC events over the years listed by Heintze include:

1810- An entertainment, “Columbia’s Independence,” is presented at the Washington Theatre in Washington City (National Intelligencer, 4 July 1810, 3)

1821- President Monroe is ill and the Executive Mansion is closed to the public; John Quincy Adams reads an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a ceremony held at the Capitol;

1822- At Mount Vernon, Judge Bushrod Washington announces that he will no longer allow “Steam-boat parties” and “eating, drinking, and dancing parties” on the grounds there (Alexandria Gazette, 4 July 1822, 3); 

1831- in Washington, two separate politically partisan ceremonies are held: the “National Republican Celebration,” for the friends of Henry Clay, and “The Administration Celebration,” for the friends for the re-election of President Jackson (National Intelligencer, 4 July 1831, 3); in Washington, Francis Scott Key gives an oration in the Rotunda of the Capitol (National Intelligencer, 4 July 1831, 3)

1848- In Washington, the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument takes place with the President of the United States, Dolley Madison, and other persons of distinction in attendance; 

1851- In Washington, President Fillmore assists in the laying of the “cornerstone of the new Capitol edifice” while Daniel Webster gives his last Fourth of July oration there;

1876- Centennial celebrations (many are three-day celebrations, 3-5 July) occur throughout the United States and abroad; in Washington, D.C., at the First Congregational Church, the poem “Centennial Bells,” by Bayard Taylor is read by the poet;  in Washington, 11 couples celebrate the Fourth by getting married,

1881- In Washington, D.C., the Chief of Police issues an order banning all fireworks in respect to the shooting of President Garfield while, at the same time, prayer meetings for the President’s recovery are held in lieu of Fourth celebrations throughout the country ;

1916- In Washington, D.C., President Wilson gives a speech at the dedication of the new American Federation of Labor building;

1918- President Wilson gives speech at an “international Fourth of July celebration” at Mount Vernon; in Washington, D.C., foreign-born citizens with nearly 5,000 performers in costume present a pageant, “Democracy Triumphant,” in front of President Wilson and government officials at the Capitol; 

1927- in Washington, D.C., the first official fourth of July ceremony at the Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument Grounds takes place; 

1943- In Washington, D.C., John Clagett Proctor reads an original poem at the annual Independence Day observance by the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia society held in the Old Union Engine Fire House (Washington Evening Star, 5 July 1943, A7) ;

1947- In Washington, D.C., the Fourth ceremony at the Monument Grounds is televised for the first time (Washington Evening Star, 5 July 1947, A3)

1959- President Eisenhower gives a speech and lays the third cornerstone in the 166-year history of the U.S. Capitol (Washington Post, 5 July 1959, A1);

2000- in Washington, there is a “National Independence Day Parade,” an annual “Capitol Fourth” concert at the Capitol, and the Declaration of Independence is read in front of the steps of the National Archives and a Revolutionary War battle re-enactment takes place there following a brief speech by John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States;

2001- Public readings of the Declaration of Independence take place throughout the country, including the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the Art Museum in Philadelphia, and the Old State House in Boston; in Washington, D.C., the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights) are removed (the first such removal in nearly 50 years) from the Rotunda for preservation improvements and will not be displayed again until 2003,

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