The Fourth of July is when most families get together to eat, watch some fireworks and attend patriotic ceremonies. Even in the 19th century this was how most celebrated, except July 4th, 1865.
The year that had seen the end of the War Between the States did not bring many citizens relief. In the South there was still the bitter taste of loss and marshal law; in the north there was relief and heartbreak over the past events. Only three months earlier, general Robert E Lee had surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Virginia. Almost days later, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance in Ford’s theatre. In Texas, slaves had only just learned of their freedom a few weeks earlier.
During the mid-19th century, celebrations of Independence Day were commonly marked with a local parade, speeches from local dignitaries and readings of the Declaration of Independence. Fireworks were not in common use due to the expense and fire hazard. The celebrations of July 4th, 1865 paled in comparison. Some communities barely observed the holiday at all. Even during the war, most people did not celebrate as they had before due to financial hardships and the many of the men of the community away fighting. The one change that was made to most celebrations after the end of the war, was a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation was read in many communities.
President Johnson looked at Fourth of July as a way for the citizens of this country to start the healing process and to reunify the country. The President was scheduled to visit Gettysburg, PA on the 4th of July for a memorial service but stayed in Washington instead. The Washington Evening Star reported that the capitol observed the holiday with its usual fanfare and celebration with fireworks on the south lawn of the Whitehouse. Many towns and communities in the Northern states celebrated the holiday not just as a holiday but as a victory celebration.
Some in the South tried to argue that they should embrace the holiday despite the outcome of the war. Some southerners did try and celebrate but some were too bitter. In the South, the range was celebration was immense, from a full scale celebration to indifference. In Columbia South Carolina it was reported that one man took his own life on July 4th, 1865 because “he could never live under the United States government”.
“The Fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day-for burning fire crackers!”
“How long ago is it? Eighty odd years- since the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal’. That was the birthday of the United States of America.”