4th of July History

The Fourth of July: An Ongoing Legacy

Submitted by Pleasant Hill Resident: Stephen M. Astrachan

The Fourth of July commemorates the founding of the United States of America. While every year adds to the celebration’s legacy, we should never forget those whose vision and courage gave us this holiday.

John Adams, one of the great signers of the Declaration of Independence, foresaw that the day would be celebrated with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Ironically, he died exactly fifty years later on July 4, 1826, at his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. His last words, “Jefferson lives” were also ironic as his colleague and friend, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, died that same day at Monticello in Virginia.

Eighty-seven years later the Fourth of July would take on an even deeper meaning in American life as the turning point of the Civil War. It was on July 4, 1863 that the great Confederate fortress at Vicksburg, Mississippi would surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant. That same day at the other side of the conflict General Robert E. Lee retreated from the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; never again to threaten the Union.

Ironically, it was one of the worst days for President Abraham Lincoln – and he had many bad days – as he had wanted General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac to destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and put an end to the rebellion once and for all.

It was two years earlier on July 4, 1861 that President Abraham Lincoln defined the Union’s, and ultimately the nation’s, purpose in his special address to Congress: “This is essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. Yielding to partial and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the Government for whose existence we contend.”

As we celebrate the Fourth with family and friends, let’s remember those who pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” so that we could enjoy the blessings of this wonderful land.