"Every generation celebrates holidays in a manner consistent with its desires," writes Diana Karter Appelbaum in her introduction to this history of the celebration of Independence Day in America. What follows is a discussion of the events of the first Independence Day (we would have celebrated independence on July 2 had our founding fathers been less long-winded) and what significance succeeding generations chose to attach to it.
The first few anniversaries of the new country, of course, resembled the celebration of revolutions the world over: a dogmatic insistence by the new leaders that their actions had been correct. In later years, celebrations became increasingly partisan, although some towns devised stratagems to keep the revelry noncombative. "From the 1820s onward, most towns managed to hold patriotic exercises on the Fourth of July that excluded no party, confining politics to toasting rival candidates and party heroes. . . . Since men who have drunk 20, 40, or more toasts will fail to act with circumspection when they hear their political heroes insulted by partisans of a rival party, many towns that managed to hold unified exercises in the sober morning hours found it expedient to allow party loyalty to determine the guest list for the afternoon's holiday dinners."