From the first celebration of the Fourth of July to today, the day has been marked by fireworks, feasting, and every form of festivity.

To begin, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on the fourth of July. It was passed by the Continental Congress on July second. John Adams was certain that the second of July would be a day of celebration. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, he said, “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 Shews [sic], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

However, the document wasn’t distributed broadside to the public until July fourth, and that is the date the public decided to celebrate. The first Fourth was celebrated a year later in the larger cities of the thirteen states. The citizens of Philadelphia were not unanimously in favor of the day or united in the patriot cause. A grand celebration was prepared, but the town’s Executive Council feared violence and called up 200 militiamen to maintain order.

The city fathers worried about the “illuminations” planned by the patriots. Many of the Tories, who were loyal to Britain, would be conspicuous by their dark houses. The Executive Council recommended “moderation and forbearance towards persons who might not illuminate.”

About noon, all of the ships and “allies in the river were drawn up before the city and fired a thirteen gun salute. A fine Congressional Dinner was prepared at which a Hessian Band entertained. They had been captured at Trenton. The door was guarded by British deserters who had been taken into service by the State of Georgia. Toasts were drunk in honor of those patriots who fell in the defense of freedom. Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery and small arms, and a suitable piece of music by the Hessian band.”

At night, bells were rung, and there was a display of fireworks. Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.

Reprinted from The Fresno, California, Scottish Rite Bulletin citing the American Heritage Magazine, June 1977, p. 28.