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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Glorious Fourth! How it Was Celebrated in 19th Century Virginia

The Tucumcari News and Tucumcari Times - June 20, 1913
For about twenty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Americans didn’t widely celebrate it. Not because it wasn't important to them, it's just that there was so much activity put into building their new nation that the joy of independence was something most felt often and not just on a single day. By the 1790s, bitter partisan conflicts had developed and even the Declaration of Independence had become a controversial political topic. The Democratic-Republicans party admired Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. But the opposing party, the Federalists, took the position that the Declaration of Independence was too French-like and went too far in its  anti-British rhetoric. John Adams complained in an 1817 letter that Americans seemed uninterested in the history of the nation.

At about the same time that Adams complained about Americans' lack of interest in the founding of the country, the Federalist party began to dissolve and new parties were established in the 1820s and 1830s. The new parties considered themselves inheritors of Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans party. Copies of the Declaration of Independence were widely circulated with the important date of July 4, 1776 printed right across the top. Ironically, the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826 may be the final events that cemented the idea of July 4 as an important day in American history.

Soon, Americans were celebrating the "Glorious Fourth" all over the country. Employers were allowing their employees to take the day off, plantation owners would give the day off to those whom they enslaved, and barbecues were the main events all over. Even so, it wasn't until 1870 that Congress would declare July 4 a national holiday.

Early on, the "Glorious Fourth" has been a day for barbecues in Virginia going back to the earliest times in our country's history even in those early days when people living in other parts of the country were ignoring the day. However, the Civil Was would change all of that, at least for a couple of decades. Few barbecues held in Virginia during the civil war and even when the war ended Virginians were not quick to resume the celebration of the day. The worthless Confederate currency coupled with the Federal Army's tactic of destroying food stocks, took its toll. And, immediately after the Civil War, Virginia ceased to be a state and became "Military District Number One" ruled by a military governor.

It took a while after the Civil War for "the Fourth" to again be known as the "Glorious Fourth." In fact, the Richmond Dispatch of July 6, 1886 (21 years after the end o f the war) took note that in Richmond, Virginia "the day (July 4 of 1886) was more generally observed than any Fourth since the war".

The Enquirer (Richmond, VA newspaper) of July 26, 1808 provides a description of an early 19th century Virginia July 4th barbecue. This event occurred in Charlottesville, VA and, according to letters written to Thomas Jefferson, was attended by Anne Scott Jefferson.
The citizens of Albemarle county convened in Charlottesville to celebrate the 4th of July. The Declaration of American Independence was read  to a large assembly in the Courthouse. At three o'clock the company animated by the presence of many of the most accomplished ladies in the vicinity, sat down to a handsome barbecue provided by Mr. Elijah Garth. After dinner, on the retiring of the ladies, the gentlemen drank the following toasts in the republican spirit of their own country. 
1.) The 4th of July 1776 - May the principles it consecrated animate us in every crisis to defend the blessings it bequeathed.  
2.) The People - The only legitimate source of power. May they ever beware of those insidious friends who would protect them from "their worst enemies, themselves." 
3.) The Constitution of the U.S. - The solar central point of the Federative system; may its mild and beneficent attraction harmonize in their respective orbits the planets that compose it. 
4.) America - The world's best hope; the last asylum of persecuted freedom. She has strangled the serpents in her cradle - she need not feat their hisses now.
5.) Virginia - In the 'war of the revolution' she led the van. In the dark period of the reign of terror, she fanned the decaying flame, and cheered the drooping sons of freedom. she will never tarnish the lustre of her fame. 
6.) George Washington - His meritorious services will consecrate to his memory the "fairest page in the volume of faithful history." 
7.) The President of the United States - Useful and illustrious is the consciousness of having faithfully devoted his best efforts to his country's service, will constitute the happiness of his retirement. 
8.) The Judiciary of our State - Wise, republican and independent. A shield to the virtuous and a terror to evil doers. 
9.) The Governor of Virginia - May his country remember his services, and his successors emulate his virtues. 
10.) Wilson C. Nichols, our representative in Congress. Wisdom to discern; and firmness and independence to pursue the best interests of his country. 
11.) The Embargo - A weapon of more effective hostility than the canon or the sword. It promises the advantages of war without its waste of blood and treasure. 
12.) The Manufacturing spirit now moving over the face of our land. May it grow strong, may it be general and permanent; then shall we be indeed an independent nation. 
13.) The Patriots of '76 - Should their descendants be called upon to defend the independence they established, their spirit will support, and their example will animate and inspire them. 
14.) The Militia - The rights of the nation are their rights; they will know how to defend them. The best source of political reformation - the scourge of those who would destroy, and the support of those who cherish true republicanism. 
15.) The freedom of the Press. 
16.) The Minority in Congress, and the friends of that minority - "Monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it." 
17.) The state of Massachusetts - A caution against the security, and a call upon the vigilance of republicanism.
During the civil war, as you can imagine, the Southern states didn't celebrate the fourth and there seemed to be a subdued disappointment and sadness that they couldn't and many newspapers felt compelled to write about the lack of 4th of July celebrations. The Confederate Union from July 7, 1863 commented (with a hint of sarcasm aimed at the "Yankees"). The author didn't yet know that the Union won the Battle of Gettysburg on July 4, 1863 which turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
4th of July 
We saw nothing in our town to remind us of the return of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the once United States of America. It passed off like any other day - sans fireworks, sans music, sans whiskey storms, sans barbecues, sans everything. Gen. Lee has sadly interfered with the 4th of July programme in some of the Yankee towns of Southern Pennsylvania. Instead of flying banners about York on the 4th there were only flying Dutchmen to be seen. We have no doubt Gen. Lee's Army paid proper respect to the day, by a fight or foot race with the Yankees.

The author of the above commentary obviously didn't have full knowledge of what happened at Gettysburg.

Immediately after the civil war, the Southern states were in no mood to celebrate July 4th. This article printed in the Federal Union of July 3, 1866 sarcastically sums up the sentiment that prevailed throughout the South at that time.
4th of July! Tomorrow is the famous 4th of July. It used to be a big day for us, when our boys had pretty uniforms and flashing guns and swords to go a mustering in - but the boys who used to carry them are sleeping under the sod - and the principles they made such a noise about are as dead as they are. The U.S. Congress has decided that our boys shall not serve in the Army or Navy of the U.S. any more - what use then for us to go a sogering on the 4th! They have put us out of the Union and taken our country away from us - therefore we have no flag to salute and toast as in days of yore. What a miserable apology for a people we are, anyhow! No country, no principles, no flag, no military, no money, no 4th of July! Nothing but taxes and trouble! Oh my! Won't somebody take pity on us, and carry us in out of the cold?
We hear that a public spirited gentleman intends giving a barbecue at the river, where those inclined to celebrate the 4th in that way, can be accommodated at a dollar a head. We hope Ab will cook his pigs brown, and be sure that he kills all the worms as dead as the 4th of July is in this part of the world.

A follow up story in the July 10, 1866 Federal Union had this report -
"The Fourth" passed away without anything happening worthy of special notice. There were many freedmen in town who came to see what was to be seen. But, "not a drum was heard"; and as they had no cash to spend, they departed for their homes but little, if any, poorer or wiser than when they came. 
Our white population treated the day much as they do other days at this season - trying to keep cool. A few who had invitations and horse flesh, went ruralizing in search of spring water and barbecue. 
When the Fourth of July comes round again, we hope our people may have the right, as well as be in the mood, to welcome the day with something of the spirit, pride and patriotic pleasure that marked the anniversary of the Nation's birth in the better days of the Republic.
The Richmond Dispatch of July 6, 1886 summarizes how July 4th was celebrated in 19th century Virginia before and after the civil war.

How it was celebrated yesterday and in by-gone days.
 The ante-bellum celebration of the Fourth of July in Richmond consisted of an artillery salute fired from the southern slope of the Capitol Square, a parade of the military on the drill ground between the Washington monument and the Executive Mansion, where the Governor and Adjutant-General usually reviewed them, and where they somewhat practiced themselves in musketry by firing several rounds of blank cartridges, to the delight of most and to the consternation of some of the crowd. These exercises over, the companies soon separated, and nearly all of them went picnicking. Buchanan's Spring, Clarke's Spring, Mitchell's Spring. Goddin's Tavern, and Ritchie's farm were among the favorite shades of that day, where, with uniform-coat off, the soldier and his civic guests mixed gallons of mint-julep and bowls of punch, pitched quoits, shot at targets, ran races, wrestled, or played cards, as fancy inclined. The dinners consisted largely of barbecued meats and Brunswick stew, though more ornate dishes were not wanting, and along with the wines came the toasts in which, and in the responsive speeches, " Our Country," "Virginia," "the Memory of Washington," "the City of Richmond," and "Woman" were never forgotten. A grandiloquent style of speaking prevailed, and the term "Fourth-of-July orator" became a synonym for labored rhetorical flights of young and exuberantly patriotic parties; but these were real love-feasts. 
The horizon was not yet specked by clouds of war. Virginians cherished the Union with a warmth such as only a parent can feel for a dearly loved child; and after they had heard her praises sounded, and were done with their eating and drinking and frolicking, the military formed in line, and, preceded military formed in line, and, preceded by drum and fife and four or five boys bearing the riddled target-board, they marched back to the city and put away their arms and accoutrements until next time.

When the war came there were no holidays for the masses; it was all fighting and no frolicking. After the first year there were few new or clean uniforms to parade in, and no powder and caps to spare for salutes which would kill nobody. Hostilities ended, the Confederate flag furled, Richmond people looked at the unturfed graves in Oakwood and Hollywood and at the burnt district in their city, and at the Federal troops quartered in the suburbs, and could not all at once revive Fourth-of-July patriotism in their breasts. But as nature and human industry covered the scars of war, and the great majority of the North and of the South buried their differences, the observance of the Fourth again became general here. At first no attention was paid to it. Few closed places of business. Now, it is the most generally observed holiday of the year, Christmas alone excepted. 
In these times, as of old, the stars and stripes float from every flag staff and masthead; but the crowds which used to picnic near the city now take excursion trains and fly to Washington, to Old Point, to the White Sulpbur, to Fredericksburg, to Petersburg - indeed any where to be out of Richmond. The colored troops, ever burning with patriotism and ever indifferent to the burning sun, have usually stayed at home and paraded and marched and pic-nicked. 
Our people go out and the country people, white and black, come in. The excursion trains pass each other on the roads, and so crowded are the cars that it is hard to tell whether the out-come or in-put is the greater; and it is likewise a disputed point whether the country people who come to the city or the city people who go to the country catch more of hot weather. But it makes no difference. It is the natal day of American independence; it is a day for fun and frolic, and if the former is only to be got by much endurance and some hard work, and the latter haves headaches, they are but part and parcel of the joy and misery we must endure for our beloved country.

In Fear God and Walk Humbly:The Agricultural Journal of James Mallory, 1843-1877, by James Mallory, the sentiment in the South before and after the Civil War is well documented. Mallory's diary entries for July fourth from the years 1844 up to 1858 were all very similar to his 1844 entry. Starting in 1859 and to the end of his diary, his entries indicate a lack of enthusiasm and support for Independence Day. Here are his entries for July 4 with 1844 and then 1859 to 1876.

A large [crowd] attended the Barbecue, patriotism seemed to prevail to a great extent, good order and more abundant provision I never witnessed, about the time of dinner mostly after the ladies had dined a shower interupted the enjoyment of the party, all seemed to regret it as the managers had taken so great pains to entertain the crowd.

Crops are so grassy and people are showing more love of Cash than patriotism, fear the sectional strife going on with regard to slavery has lessoned the devotion for our national holidays.

No celebration of independence day, indeed it is to be feared that political strife and sectional rancor and hate on the subject of slavery is going far to do away [with] that Patritism that has heretofore been the safeguard of our Union, and the glory of our people.

Independence day is not much celebrated from the sadness of the times, it is of additional interest from the circumstance of the federal Congress meeting to determine on their future policy, if they support Lincoln in his war policy awful will be the times. A rainy day, it will gladen the feelings of thousands, the South will rejoice in plenty of food, God is good to us, may we be grateful for it. No war news.

The context of Mallory's1861 diary entry was the fact that on July 4, 1861, president Lincoln called Congress to a special session. His address to the congress blamed the outbreak of hostilities on the South and asked for 400 thousand men and four hundred million dollars. Congress approved. The Civil War, pg 90-92.

Fighting is going on with great loss on both sides, history gives no account of such a conflict, reports in our favor. The National Independence day has been interrupted by the terrible conflict going on around Richmond, the South if no solemnity hung over it might well retains its galey day never having violated the spirit of the Constitution.

Independence day is not much attended to these times of suffering, hope we may soon add another to our festive days in relief of our enemies. Finished ploughing our corn and potatoes, may harrow some corn.

The day so celebrated by us Americans seems to be lost sight of in the present great sufferings of our people, may a brighter and more glorious one succeed it in our deliverance from our present enemies.
The blacks are crowding every road to Talladega in great numbers to (as they think) a great dinner to be given them by the yankees, very hot.

The day has lost its spell on the hearts of our people, our cruel enemies have done their work of oppression so well that great changes must take place before patriotism has much to do in connection with country. The Freedmen and a few white Radicals had a large assemblage at Town (Talledega) yesterday.

July 3 - Had a chill with high fever
July 4 - (Sabbath) Was to(o) unwell for preaching today, the family attended, hot.
July 5 - Commended to use the Sweeps in our cotton, it is the best crop in the country.

Independence day has lost its glory with So[u]thern people, the Civil War and oppressive rule of Congress has alienated the people from the government, still their vile laws and robbery continue.

There is no hallo of delight in this day with the subjugated South. We gave our Freedmen a dinner.

The day has lost its glory for the South, so oppressed by the government, bourn down by Radical and negro rule & taxes that the people have lost their love for the old flag. Finished laying by our corn, it is good.

There was a cold effort to revive the love of the day observed in most the S. Cities.

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