Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. War began more than a year earlier in Lexington Massachusetts; it would not end for another 7 years (1783). The colonists were trying to persuade other nations of Europe to be on their side, so they included a long list of complaints about the king. The document said of the king, in part, “HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.”
In 1804, the explorers Lewis and Clark had the first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. They were traveling through a part of the Midwest that is now Kansas. They stopped at the mouth of a creek on July 4th, and named it Independence Creek in honor of the day. To celebrate, they fired their cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whisky to the men.
It became a popular holiday after the War of 1812. On the frontier, it was the only time of the year when everyone in the countryside gathered together in one place. There would be parades and speeches, and the prettiest and most wholesome girl in the village would be named the Goddess of Liberty. Politicians would get up and call the king of England a skunk and challenge him to a fight. Drunk men in the streets would get into fights and call each other Englishmen. Soon, events like groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities. In 1870 Congress passed a law declaring it a federal holiday. These days, almost all communities — from small towns to major metropolitan areas — have 4th of July parades and set off fireworks. Washington, D.C., has a parade down Constitution Avenue and fireworks above the Washington Monument. In Boston, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs a free concert that ends with fireworks over the Charles River. Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, and Philadelphia also have huge festivities. But the longest-running 4th of July parade in the country takes place in Bristol, Rhode Island, a town of just over 20,000, which has had a parade every year since 1785
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both died on July 4th 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote the Declaration, and John Adams was its strongest supporter in the Continental Congress.
On this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. It was 10 feet wide by 15 feet long, had an attic and a closet, two windows, and a fireplace.
On this day in 1855, the first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was printed. It consisted of 12 poems and a preface. “Grass” is a printer’s term; it refers to a casual job that can be set up between busy times.
On this day in 1931, James Joyce married Nora Barnacle at the Kensington Registry Office in London.