Celebrating the fourth: Independence Day and the rites of by Len Travers

By Len Travers

Public rituals have constantly held an important position in American tradition. by way of a ways the noisiest and most well liked of those to emerge within the nation's early years was once Independence Day. After a decade of fitful starts off, the Fourth of July eclipsed neighborhood and nearby patriotic observances to turn into the most appropriate "American Jubilee." Celebrating the Fourth offers a historical past of this vacation and explores its position in shaping a countrywide id and cognizance in 3 towns - Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia - through the first fifty years of the yankee republic. Independence Day celebrations justified, demonstrated, and helped hold nationalism between humans unused to supplying political allegiance past their very own nation borders. because the observances grew to become more and more renowned and symbolically very important, political partisans competed hotly for the correct to regulate the which means of the fairs.

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Ceremony is thus a conspicuously "structuring" activity. 1 Celebration, on the other hand, is not intentionally structuring (though often is indirectly), does not insist on habitual decorum, and sanctions exuberant releases of energy. In other words, it is play; or at least, play is at its core. In celebration, strict decorum is set aside; there is no apparent message, no desired "result," and it may seem unmotivated and spontaneous. 2 Americans in the late eighteenth century had experience with both ritual traditions.

Nevertheless, his account of that whirlwind experience gives modern readers a rare glimpse of how the celebration of Independence Day in the early republic appeared to an outsider (albeit a rather grumpy one). His account of the events is simple and descriptive, and without the rhetorical hyperbole of his American contemporaries. Janson's irascible candor does confirm the broad participation cited in Boston's newspaper accounts, however. '' But Janson's account also reminds the reader of the insurmountable barrier between the observer of a foreign culture and the culture itself.

Patton Hash was my guide through the collections in the Charleston Historical Society. Conrad Wright, my boss at the Massachusetts Historical Society, generously extended me the time needed for rewrites. Several readers of the manuscript provided extremely helpful advice and much-appreciated encouragement: Robert St. George, Richard Fox, Shirley Wajda, Marilyn Halter, Anita Tien, Paul Wright, Matthew Dennis, and fellow musketeers Martha MacNamara and Nancy Lee Nelson. Following their leads enriched the study, alerted me to alternative interpretations, and saved me from more than a few outright gaffes.

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