U.S. Independence Day a Civic and Social Event

By Michael Jay Friedman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The United States celebrates its Independence Day on July 4, a day of patriotic celebration and family events throughout the country. In the words of Founding Father John Adams, the holiday would be “the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, … . 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 forever more.”

The holiday is a major civic occasion, with roots deep in the Anglo-American tradition of political freedom.


Community fireworks displays are common. In New York City, Macy's department store for 30 years has sponsored a July 4 fireworks display. In 2005, the 30-minute show featured 35,000 shells launched from seven barges afloat in the East River and in New York Harbor. The Associated Press estimated that more than 3 million watched in person. The event also has been televised nationally in recent years.

"The Fourth" is a family celebration. Picnics and barbeques are common. July is summer in the United States, and millions of Americans escape the heat at beaches and other vacation spots.  Independence Day is not among the legal holidays fixed on a Monday or Friday, but many employees use vacation time to create an extended weekend, as in 2006, when the holiday occurs on a Tuesday.

Construction of important public works sometimes begins on July 4. The Erie Canal, Washington Monument and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (the nation's first) all broke ground on Independence Day. The date reflects a desire symbolically to stamp these projects as true civic improvements.


The Fourth of July is a time when elected officials and other public figures often give speeches extolling American traditions and values.

Independence Day has provided some of this nation's most stirring words of freedom. In 1788, Founding Father James Wilson addressed a Philadelphia gathering that was possibly the largest July 4 celebration in the young nation's history. He exhorted his fellow citizens to ratify the proposed Constitution. "What is the object exhibited to our contemplation?" he asked. "A WHOLE PEOPLE exercising its first and greatest power - performing an act of SOVEREIGNTY, ORIGINAL and UNLIMITED….”

On July 4, 1852, the black journalist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass decried the evils of slavery, still prevalent in the American South at that time, but identified forces "drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions in operation" that "must inevitably work The downfall of slavery."

Ninety years later, near the darkest moments of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded the nation that July 4 symbolized "the democratic freedom which our citizens claim as their precious birthright:" For the "weary, hungry, unequipped Army of the American Revolution," he continued:

the Fourth of July was a tonic of hope and inspiration. So is it now…. The tough, grim men who fight for freedom in this dark hour take heart in its message - the assurance of the right to liberty under God - for all peoples and races and groups and nations, everywhere in the world.

On July 4, 2001, President George W. Bush spoke outside Independence Hall, Philadelphia, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence. That document, he said, continues to represent "the standard to which we hold others, and the standard by which we measure ourselves. Our greatest achievements have come when we have lived up to these ideals. Our greatest tragedies have come when we have failed to uphold them."

Across the nation, civic leaders of even the most humble station echo these words, and their audiences give thanks for the freedom and liberties that the founding generation won for all Americans.

For additional information, see July 4th - Celebrating Independence Day in the United States.