Bonfires and Illuminations

On the second of July in 1776 John Adams wrote from Philadelphia to his wife Abigail his predictions on how the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be commemorated:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

I am fortunate to be daily “transported with Enthusiasm” because I get to wander into the Rotunda and observe the thousands of people who come to see the original Declaration of Independence. Even in its faded state after 236 years the parchment evokes an emotional reaction from its visitors—curiosity, joy, and even tears.

From all of us at the National Archives, the nation’s record keeper, Happy Fourth of July!

3 thoughts on “Bonfires and Illuminations

  1. David,
    Thanks for posting the fireworks video – I ooh-ed and ah-ed. Since I am from the tinder-dry West where most fireworks displays have been cancelled this year, it was a treat!

  2. Thank you very much for the John Adams quote. Every 4th of July I volunteer at the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy MA. I use part of this quote in my tours on that very special day.
    Adams National Historic Park contains the birthplace homes of both John and John Quincy Adams as well as the home to 4 generations of Adams including John, John Quincy, Civil War Ambassador Charles Francis Adams and Historian and Author Henry Adams. Visit if you are ever in the area!

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