The following is a hodgepodge of images and text, taken from The Library of Congress’ American Memory site and the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection, which represent, without much comment on my part, some isolated moments and issues and attitudes from Independence Days past. They span the years between 1844 and 1970 and offer what I hope will be a bit of a gentle counterpoint to our drunken, parade-following, explosion-watching fun today.
1898 Reflections Appropriate to “The Fourth”, published in The Century a popular quarterly.
Quote: “The significance of Independence Day this year is greatly enlarged by reason of the war with Spain. The temptation of the Fourth-of-July orator will be to lose sight, in the brilliance of martial events, of the steady white light of national aspiration so clearly reflected in one of the noblest of our patriotic hymns, “America.” This lofty hymn may help to remind us that not in victory alone, certainly not in extension of territory, but in a steadfast dedication to the principles of liberty and justice, lies the true greatness of a nation. The hymn contains no line of boasting or self-glorification, and the contemplation of its pure sentiment will be useful at this time, lest we forget in the allurements of martial success that war is only a means to an honorable peace.”
1915 Sheet Music for the song Hurrah for the USA. First verse:
“I love to be in a land that’s free from tumult and war,
Where right is seen to be supreme, that’s what we’re striving for,
So every day let each one pray our friends across the sea,
Lay down their arms and go to their farms and live in harmony,
Hooray Hooray for the good ol’ U S of A.”
1938 From the WPA funded American Folklore Project.
Quote from Miss Nettie Spencer, of Portland Oregon, remembering the Fourth of her childhood:
“It was the big event of the year. Everyone in the countryside got together on that day for the only time in the year. There would be floats in the morning and the one that got the [girls?] eye was the Goddess of Liberty. She was supposed to be the most wholesome and prettiest girl in the countryside — if she wasn’t she had friends who thought she was. But the rest of us weren’t always in agreement on that… Following the float would be the Oregon Agricultural College cadets, and some kind of a band. Sometimes there would be political effigies.
Just before lunch - and we’d always hold lunch up for an hour - some Senator or lawyer would speak. These speeches always had one pattern. First the speaker would challenge England to a fight and berate the King and say that he was a skunk. This was known as twisting the lion’s tail. Then the next theme was that any one could find freedom and liberty on our shores. The speaker would invite those who were heavy laden in other lands to come to us and find peace. The speeches were pretty fiery and by that time the men who drank got into fights and called each other Englishmen. In the afternoon we had what we called the ‘plug uglies’ — funny floats and clowns who took off on the political subjects of the day…The Fourth was the day of the year that really counted then. Christmas wasn’t much; a Church tree or something, but no one twisted the lion’s tail.”
Hope you found these to be interesting or thought provoking or at very the least visually stimulating.