As a proud American on this Fourth of July, I am happy to live with the freedoms our founding fathers declared on July 4, 1776. Not to mention all the ones thathave followed as our Constitution has been amended over time. Today, I am doing some of the time honored traditions that have become synonymous with the Fourth of July in America. I will be spending time with my family, enjoying a nice backyard barbeque and watching fireworks this evening. I’m wearing red, white and blue and have an American Flag flying outside my front door. It’s been the way I have celebrated Independence Day for nearly all of my 34 years and it makes me wonder how Abraham Lincoln celebrated this holiday.
At first I just wondered if LMU’s expansive archives included anything obscure or interesting about this national holiday. I was looking for a really great find that would make an awesome blog topic. My first stop was to check in with University Archivist Michelle Ganz. Of the top of her head, she couldn’t think of anything that fit the bill in the University archives, but she offered to check in the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum vault. A couple days later, her response came in: “All I have is a replica gun used in the revolutionary war.”
RATS… where else could I come up with a great blog topic that would be timely and connected to LMU? My next stop was to fire up the old search engine and “Google” the history of the Independence Day. The search gave me a brief history of the holiday and a snapshot of celebrations over time. To my surprise, July 4 celebrations began in 1777, though they were mostly localized. On July 4, 1778, General George Washington celebrated by giving his troops a double ration of rum. The local commemorations went on year-to-year, though Congress itself didn’t make it a national holiday until 1870. It wasn’t a paid national holiday for government employees until 1938.
My last stop on the search for an interesting July 4th blog post was Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum Curator Steven Wilson. A published author of historical fiction, Steven is nothing short of interesting. If you’ve never been to LMU’s Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, I encourage you to visit and seek out Steven for a tour. He has a special way of making history come alive.
Steven didn’t disappoint when I first approached him with the question “how did Lincoln celebrate the Fourth of July.” His first reply was classic Steven, “Let me check it out, I know he owned a jet ski.”
After some quick research, Steven got back to me with a more serious answer. Wilson’s research showed that the 16th President didn’t really do anything special or out of the ordinary on July 4. In the dark days of the Civil War, there were no double rations of rum from this Commander inChief. He left secretaries and Mrs. Lincoln to plan any Independence Day Celebrations on the grounds of the Executive Mansion. His July 4ths as President were spent seeing visitors in his office and receiving salutations from groups such as the Veterans of the War of 1812. I guess it was challenging to celebrate the birth of a nation that you were fighting to hold together.
Whether or not Lincoln actually participated in the fireworks and patriotic celebrations that exist today, it makes him no less a part of Independence Day in the United States. After all, freedom is a central part of the celebration and who in our history has played a bigger role in freeing a group of people than the Great Emancipator?