Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic

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Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1999 - History - 278 pages

Public rituals have always held a vital place in American culture. By far the noisiest and most popular of these to emerge in the nation's early years was Independence Day. After a decade of fitful starts, the Fourth of July eclipsed local and regional patriotic observances to become the premier "American Jubilee." Celebrating the Fourth provides a history of this holiday and explores its role in shaping a national identity and consciousness in three cities - Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia - during the first fifty years of the American republic. Independence Day celebrations justified, validated, and helped maintain nationalism among people unused to offering political allegiance beyond their own state borders. As the observances became increasingly popular and symbolically important, political partisans competed hotly for the right to control the meaning of the festivals.


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Page 15 - The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
Page 1 - The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong.
Page 18 - 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. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly -houses were dark, but the lights were very universal.
Page 24 - Thus may the fourth of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America by the sons of freedom, from age to age, till time shall be no more. Amen and amen.

About the author (1999)

Len Travers is assistant director of the Center for the Study of New England History at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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