Q: How was the Fourth of July first celebrated, and when did the celebrations start?
Answer: The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and celebrations began soon afterward.
For example, there was a public reading of the declaration on July 8 in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress met. On July 24, Williamsburg, Va., marked the declaration with a public reading, parade and cannon and musket fire. Celebrations of the anniversary of the adoption started the next year.
John Adams described the events in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, in a letter to his daughter Abigail “Nabby” Adams saying, “The thought of taking any notice of this day, was not conceived, until the second of this month, and it was not mentioned until the third. It was too late to have a sermon, as every one wished, so this must be deferred another year.”
There also were days of decorated ships and boats, gun salutes, a parade and more.
“Considering the lateness of the design and the suddenness of the execution,” Adams wrote,
“I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendor of every part of this joyful exhibition. I had forgot the ringing of bells all day and evening, and the bonfires in the streets, and the fireworks played off.”
You can read Adams’ letter in its entirety on the Library of Congress’ website. A direct link to the letter, which includes other vivid descriptions of the celebrations, can be found at tinyurl.com/adamsfourthletter.
The celebrations continued to grow and spread over the years. In 1783, as peace returned to the nation in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, North Carolina’s Alexander Martin became the first governor to issue a state order to celebrate the Fourth of July.
The Moravians of Salem heeded this, and first celebrated the Fourth that year with church services, music and a torchlight procession through town.
Q: I was taught in elementary school that during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” you were not supposed to put your hand over your heart unless you were in the military or a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. You would stand with hands at your side or crossed in front or back. What is correct?
Answer: Putting your hand over your heart is correct, according to the U.S. Flag Code, which contains the rules for how to behave when the national anthem is played.
In practice, however, many civilians put their hands over their hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance and at their sides during the national anthem. In any case, you won’t get arrested if you break the rules. Good citizens naturally want to display good manners, particularly in regard to our national symbols, such as the flag and anthem.
The code states: “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.”
People in uniform (including nonmilitary uniforms, such as Scouts) salute the flag.
Veterans and service members who aren’t in uniform can also salute.