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John Adams’s vision of July 4 was July 2

By Jim Worsham

John Adams. (National Archives Identifier 532846)

John Adams. (National Archives Identifier 532846)

Today—July 2—was supposed to have been the big day of celebrations, with parades, bells, fireworks, festivals and all that kind of stuff—at least that’s how John Adams envisioned it.

After all, on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress ended its debate and approved the resolution proposed on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and seconded by Adams:

Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

The newspapers of the day treated the action as the colonies’ definitive word on the break with Great Britain. And in Adams’s mind, approval of the resolution was worth celebrating, year after year. He was so excited, he wrote one of his many letters to his wife, Abigail, back home in Massachusetts:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—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.

Alas, it was not to be. But Adams was close.

Adams had been appointed to the Committee of Five to write a document—a declaration—that told the world why the colonies cut ties with Britain. Thomas Jefferson had been working on a draft, which he gave to Adams and Benjamin Franklin for their review. Then he incorporated their changes into the draft, and submitted that draft to Congress.  The delegates debated it, took out passages critical of the English people and of slavery, and adopted it—on July 4, the day that, every year, we celebrate our independence.

Postscript

The Declaration of Independence was not signed by any of the delegates until early August, after being engrossed on parchment by Timothy Matlack, a Philadelphia beer bottler who had fine penmanship. Most delegates gathered to sign the parchment copy on August 10, but a few others  signed it later. Eventually, 56 delegates would put their names on it.

This is the copy that is on permanent display in the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, DC. It can be viewed on July 2 or July 4 or any day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and December 25.


Celebrate the Fourth of July at the National Archives!

Every year, we celebrate Independence Day on the steps of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. It’s a fun, free event for the whole family!

 

This year, Steve Scully of C-SPAN is our Master of Ceremonies. The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, will welcome the crowds. Our special guests George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Ned Hector, and Abigail Adams will read aloud the Declaration of Independence. This is your chance to boo and huzzah like the colonists of 1776!

George Washington reads from the Declaration of Independence. Photos by Chuck Fazio for the National Archives.

George Washington reads from the Declaration of Independence. Photos by Chuck Fazio for the National Archives.

The 3rd United States Infantry “Old Guard” Continental Color Guard will present the colors, and a soloist from the  United States Navy Band will sing the National Anthem.

After the program, you can go inside and see the original Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda, where it is on permanent display. (Look for the mysterious handprint!) And don’t miss the family activities in the Boeing Learning Center.

Here’s the schedule of events—stay and watch the parade afterwards!

8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

Discovering the National Archives

  • Sign a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence on 7th Street and Constitution Avenue.

10 – 11 a.m.

Declaration of Independence Reading Ceremony 

  • Ceremony emcee, C-SPAN host Steve Scully
  • Presentation of colors by the Continental Color Guard*
  • Performance of “America the Beautiful” by four-time international whistling champion Christopher Ullman
  • National Anthem led by the United States Navy Band Anthem Vocalist
  • Performance by the Fife and Drum Corps*
  • Remarks by Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero
  • Dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence by special guests including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin,  Ned Hector, Abigail Adams, and George Washington (portrayed by historical reenactors)

* Continental Color Guard and Fife and Drum Corps provided by U.S. 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard.

Stay and enjoy front-row seats for the National Independence Day Parade following the ceremony at 11:45 a.m. This popular family event is free and open to the public. Seating on the Constitution Avenue steps is available on a first-come, first-seated basis.

10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Exhibits

  • Rotunda for the Charter of Freedom
    • Declaration of Independence 
    • United States Constitution
    • Bill of Rights
  • Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery
    • “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures”
  • David M. Rubenstein Gallery
    • “Record of Rights”
    • Magna Carta
  • Public Vaults

11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Family Activities

Inside the National Archives Museum

  • Between noon and 2 p.m., meet Abigail and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
  • Listen to stories of our patriotic past in the Boeing Learning Center: 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m.
  • Participate in a variety of hands-on family activities including crafts in the Boeing Learning Center.
  • Taste American Heritage Chocolate in the Visitor Orientation Plaza.

Stay tuned for a post about the Fourth of July Social Media on Thursday!


Now On Display: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Today’s post comes from David Steinbach, intern in the National Archives History Office.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

On July 2, 1964, with Martin Luther King, Jr., directly behind him, President Lyndon Johnson scrawled his signature on a document years in the making—the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

The first and the signature pages of the act will be on display at the National Archives Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, until September 17, 2014. These 50-year-old sheets of paper represent years of struggle and society’s journey toward justice.

The most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Right Act finally gave the Federal Government the means to enforce the promises of the 13th,  14th, and 15th Amendments. The act prohibited discrimination in public places, allowed the integration of public facilities and schools, and forbade discrimination in employment.

But such a landmark congressional enactment was by no means achieved easily. Indeed, developments within the civil rights movement were critical in motivating the bill’s movement through Congress. The push for legislation accelerated in May 1963, when nightly news broadcasts displayed footage of Eugene “Bull” Connor cracking down on demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama.

In this atmosphere, President John F. Kennedy demanded a strong civil rights bill in a national address on June 11: “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”

Pressure for legislation continued to build when thousands of Americans engaged in the peaceful March on Washington on August 28. Two weeks later, a bomb in Birmingham killed four young African American girls. With civil rights at the forefront of the national consciousness, these and other developments encouraged House Democrats to introduce amendments strengthening the bill.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Sen. Richard Russell, 12/07/1963. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Sen. Richard Russell, 12/07/1963. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

External pressure made up only one chapter in the story of the bill’s passage, as supporters of the legislation had a battle of their own to wage in Congress. Just five days after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Johnson urged lawmakers “to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color.”

Despite the President’s support, the bill encountered significant difficulties in both chambers of Congress. It took a 70-day hearing process for the legislation to clear the House in February 1964.

As soon as the bill entered the Senate, southern senators commenced a 60-day filibuster—the longest continuous debate in Senate history. With the help of Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey, supporters softened language concerning government regulation of private organizations and finally won over a bloc of conservative lawmakers.

After clearing the Senate and House, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2. Thanks to public pressure and political maneuvering, the nation finally had a substantive civil rights bill.

This 50th anniversary represents a rare opportunity to see the original Civil Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, page 1, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

 

For more information read the Prologue article, “LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” It explores how President Johnson gave the “Johnson treatment” to powerful members of Congress to get the landmark civil rights legislation passed.


Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!

Today’s post celebrates the international sporting event that captivates billions of people every four years: the World Cup!

Brazilian icon Pele is one of the world’s most recognized footballers. He is one of the few players to appear in four World Cup finals and the only player to win three World Cup titles (1958, 1962, and 1970).

After he retired from international soccer, Pele dazzled New Yorkers from 1975 to 1977 playing in the North American Soccer League for the New York Cosmos. He’s widely credited with sparking American interest in the beautiful game.

In addition to being the world’s ambassador to football, Pele has been a frequent visitor to the White House.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon hosted Pele and his then-wife Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi. During the visit, the President told Pele “You are the greatest in the world,” and when Pele explained to the President that soccer differed from American football, Nixon replied “Do I know that! The main thing is to use your head.”

President Nixon meeting with Edson "Pele" Arantes do Nascimento, retired professional Brazilian soccer player and Director of the International Soccer Program sponsored by PepsiCo. Pele autographs a soccer ball for President Nixon, 05/08/1973. (National Archives Identifier 194508)

President Nixon meeting with Edson “Pele” Arantes do Nascimento, retired professional Brazilian soccer player and Director of the International Soccer Program sponsored by PepsiCo. Pele autographs a soccer ball for President Nixon, 05/08/1973. (National Archives Identifier 194508)

Two years later, Pele again visited the White House—this time in the Rose Garden. President Gerald Ford took the opportunity to demonstrate that Pele was not the only one who could juggle a soccer ball.

President Gerald R. Ford Juggling a Soccer Ball to Pele’s Amusement, 06/28/1975. (National Archives Identifier 6829578)

President Gerald R. Ford juggling a soccer ball to Pele’s amusement, 06/28/1975. (National Archives Identifier 6829578)

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan, not wanting to be out-classed by his predecessors, kicked the ball around with U.S. Men’s National Team player Steve Moyers, while Pele and a group of children looked on in the Rose Garden.

President Reagan kicking a soccer ball during a demonstration with children and Pele and Steve Moyers in the rose garden, 10/14/1982. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum)

President Reagan kicking a soccer ball during a demonstration with children and Pele and Steve Moyers in the Rose Garden, 10/14/1982. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum)


Doors of Monumental Proportions

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

On June 24 at noon, the National Archives celebrates its anniversary with a special film event: From the Vaults: 80th Anniversary of the National Archives

Constitution Avenue Entrance with doors closed, June 13, 1936, 64-NA-79, Records of the National Archives

Constitution Avenue Entrance with doors closed, 6/13/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820634)

If you have ever visited the National Archives in Washington, DC, you may have noticed two very, very large bronze doors that mark the original Constitution Avenue entrance to the building. Visitors enter through the Constitution Avenue entrance to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as well as the many other exhibits the National Archives Museum offers.

Constitution Avenue Foyer, doors closed, Jan. 12, 1936, Records of the National Archives

Constitution Avenue Foyer, doors closed, 1/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier
7820616)

These bronze doors stand about 37 feet, 7 inches high and are 10 feet wide and 11 inches thick. Each weighs roughly 6.5 tons. The building’s architect, John Russell Pope, understanding the national significance of the structure, sought to design a public exhibition hall of monumental proportions. As a reminder to visitors of the importance of the building’s purpose, the public exhibition hall Pope designed—the rotunda—measures 75 feet high; the bronze doors leading into the exhibition hall match that in size and character.

Constitution Avenue Entrance and Pediment, Jan. 12, 1936, 64-NA-39, Records of the National Archives

Constitution Avenue Entrance and Pediment, 1/12/1936. (National Archives Identifier 7820626)

The doors were first opened on October 18, 1935. Then visitors to the National Archives climbed up 39 steps on Constitution Avenue and walked past two rows of giant Corinthian columns before passing through the large, motorized doors. Each morning, guards opened the doors by turning a key to slide them open. In the evening, the guards would close them for the night. Just past the bronze doors are another, smaller set of doors that kept out the elements.

For 65 years, visitors walked through these stunning doors to visit National Archives exhibits. When the Archives reopened in 2003 following a two-year renovation, the bronze doors remained closed. Visitors now enter on the sidewalk level of Constitution Avenue. While the bronze doors are now opened only on special occasions, they remain a notable feature of the building and continue to remind visitors of the significance of the National Archives and its work.