Jacksonian Miscellanies, #22: July 1, 1997

Topic: What We Did on the 4th of July

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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"What are you doing for the 4th of July?" is often heard about this time; or on getting back to work, "What did you do for the 4th of July". So today, for my (late) July 1 piece, I've hunted through 20 or 30 published diarys, old "lives and letters", etc., to take a sampling of what Americans were doing and thinking on this day of the year, in the days when Revolutionary War veterans were still walking around.

From A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions

by Captain Frederick Marryat (ed. Sydney Jackman, Knopf 1962). Marryat, a novelist first and travel writer second, was one of the early republic's toughest (if most bemused) critics.

The Columbian Orator

The 17th edition (1814) since 1897 -- Boston: Printed by Manning & Loring, for the AUTHOR; and sold at his Book-Store, No. 44, Cornhill, and by the Booksellers in general.

The extraordinary events of just 20 years ago, and the more recent events in France inspire Francis Blake to a cosmic vision: "The grand POLITICAL MILLENNIUM is at hand; when tyranny shall be buried in ruins; when all nations shall be united in ONE MIGHTY REPUBLIC!" This hope and expectation of a worldwide revolution made him slow to criticize the French Revolution, and its three decades of rumbling aftermath, and zealous to defend it from its critics.

My impression of the tone of the Columbian Orator, and of its author, Caleb Bingham, is that he may well have shared Blake's sympathies, and desire to assume the best about revolutionary France, and to have been a pretty thorough democrat (without Thomas Jefferson's blindered view of a portion of a portion of the human race). "Dialogue between a Master and Slave", and "Dialogue Between a White Inhabitant of the United States and an Indian" exhibit broad sympathies. The book was treasured by Frederick Douglass as a teenage slave in Baltimore.

Two other extracts of July 4 speeches from the Columbian Orator are more conventional celebrations of America's accomplishments.

From a speech given in Boston in 1794 by "Phillips" (no first name given, but perhaps Samuel, the founder of Phillips Andover Academy):

Another Boston speech of July 4, 1796 by "Lathrop"

The Fourth of July in New York:

The following are taken from Charles Haswell's An Octogenarian Reminisces.

From chapter 3, describing events of 1816,

Francis Marryat described it much more vividly (again, Knopf, 1962 - see above):

The reminiscing Octogenarian, Charles Haswell makes a sad note of the vanishing of the booths, with their "six miles of roast pig", in 1841, "June 29, a vote was taken in the Board of Aldermen on the resolution of a committee to abolish the permits for the erection of booths around City Hall Park on the afternoon preceding the Fourth of July, which was negatived, and the erection of booths continued for a few years afterward. The existence of them, the peculiar character of their proprietors, and of the refreshments furnished, with the crowds that visited them, elicited the general remark upon their cessation, 'The Fourth of July passed away when the booths around City Hall Park were taken away.'"

The 4th of July in a Small Maine Port Town

Hezikiah Prince Jr., born in 1820, lived in the small port town (for the coasting trade) of Thomaston, Maine; quotes are from the Journal of Hezekiah Prince, Jr., 1822-1828 (Maine Historical Society, 1965). He describes little of the noise and chaos of a New York 4th.

A footnote adds that the meetinghouse was adorned with the names of Washington, Knox, and other patriots in white roses, with that of Bolivar (who helped revive that fine sense of a steady march of freedom).

Eight days later, on the 12th, "Papers brought the news that Presidents Old Adams and Jefferson both died on the 4th of July past."

Charles Francis Adams' 4th of July, 1831

The Diary of Charles Francis Adams (Massachusetts Historical Society 1968) relates:

On July 4, 1833, Charles Francis Adams notes:

He spent the day reading, visiting, and enjoying the outdoors.

Discordant Notes

On July 4th, 1829, an African named Ibrahima was lying mortally ill in Liberia. He was an educated Muslim prince, who had been captured in battle, sold to slave traders, to spend most of his life a slave to a small planter in the vicinity of Natchez, MI. He died on July 6, at sixty-seven; his death being largely caused by the folly of the American Colonization society. Ibrahima, at least, had a reason for being in Africa. He even had people coming to meet him. But he died, as did a huge percentage of others, who had no reason at all for being in Africa, could find no relatives there, and had no immunity to African diseases. His life is described in Terry Alford, Prince Among Slaves (Oxford University Press, 1977).

Another African American named William Johnson lived in Natchez. A free man, a barber, and a quite successful businessman (and slaveholder, it must be added), he kept a diary of short entries, hardly missing a day between 1836 and 1851. It is published in William Johnson's Natchez, the Ante-Bellum Diary of a Free Negro, ed. William Ransom Hogan and Edwin Adams Davis (1951, 1979, and Louisiana State University Press paperback - 1993). Here are some of his entries:

Having begun with the Columbia Orator, I end with a Frederick Douglass, who considered it a major influence in his life. Frederick Douglass the Orator, by James M. Gregory, (orig.: NY 1893; Appolo Editions reprint 1971) quotes from his speech on July 4th, 1852, called "The White Man's Fourth of July":

A shocking contrast, as if people were living side by side, yet in totally different worlds, symptomatic of a nation headed towards a horrible cataclysm.

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