The History of July 4th

American South

In honor of July 4th, I have decided to share with you another history lesson on Americanism:

“White Southerners marked the Fourth of July, 1848, as they had for decades, by coming together in cities, towns, and rural communities to commemorate the American Revolution. They picnicked, they paraded, they listened to speeches. Above all, they congratulated themselves on being principal members of what was surely the greatest country under the heavens: the United States of America. Although 1848 marked the beginning of what we have come to call the Civil War era, white southerners celebration of the Fourth of July that year suggest they were little aware of the fact.”

The excerpt above comes from Paul Quigley’s Shifting Grounds: Nationalism & the American South, 1848-1865.

In 1848, the South was an enthusiastic participant in the cult of American nationalism. There was little sign of the storm ahead. There was a small and growing disaffected minority in South Carolina, but overall, the vast majority of White Southerners considered themselves American patriots, including Jefferson Davis and the other future leaders of the Confederacy.

Then along came the 1850s.

It was a decade of polarization: the Compromise of 1850, the demise of the Whigs, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, “Bleeding Kansas,” the rise of the Republican Party, the Dred Scott decision, the John Brown raid at Harper’s Ferry, the splitting of the Democratic Party, and the culmination with Lincoln’s election.

Looking backward, it is easy to forget that the John McCains and Mitt Romneys of that day – war heroes with no principles like Gen. Zachary Taylor, or milquetoast doughfaces like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan – presided over America during that polarizing decade.

The “overt act” that brought about disunion was the John Brown raid on Harper’s Ferry. After John Brown, there was no turning back in South Carolina. Disunion “went viral” in the reaction in the Lower South.

The celebration of July 4th evolved after secession and the formation of the Confederacy:

“For instance, secessionists were more likely to venerate the Constitution — comparatively friendly toward slavery — than the Declaration. But even the Declaration could be remembered in particular ways that bolstered secessionists’ agenda. Thus they minimized the document’s second paragraph, with its troublesome phrases about equality and natural rights; the Virginia secessionist Edmund Ruffin described “the indefensible passage in the Declaration of Independence” as “both false & foolish.” Secessionists preferred — for obvious reasons — to remember the Declaration as a cool, political act of separation founded on the principle of self-government: “more a separation of States,” as one Charleston orator put it in 1859, “than a social and political revolution.” Southern secession from the Union would re-enact the colonists’ secession from the British Empire decades before. ..

Across the South that July, the question of how the Fourth ought to be celebrated — if at all — remained unsettled. Members of Charleston’s ’76 Association were not the only ones who were ambivalent. This remained true throughout the war. Celebrations were muted, as one would expect, by the distractions and pressures of the conflict. One young Louisiana woman forgot all about the Fourth until she wrote the date, July 4, 1862, in her diary. And anyway, she noted, “we have no time now to celebrate the birthday of a liberty which we had nearly lost and are now struggling so hard to maintain.” Many others forgot the holiday entirely. Although many white Southerners continued to claim the legacy of the Fourth, on the whole their efforts were half-hearted and sporadic, symbolizing a general confusion about the place of American history in the Confederacy.”

The meaning of July 4th was transformed under the Confederacy: there was a great ambivalence about whether to celebrate the holiday, but for the most part, it was still remembered as a great assertion of states’ rights and a struggle for self government by our forebears shorn of the ideological nonsense about human equality.

“In 1865, Northern claims to ownership of the American nation — including the Fourth of July — prevailed. For the moment, at least, white Southerners relinquished control of the Fourth. In Columbia, S.C., Emma LeConte reported in her diary, “The white people shut themselves within doors and the darkies had the day to themselves — they and the Yankees.” What was being celebrated that day was the triumph not just of the Union military but also of the interpretation of Independence Day that white Southerners had strived to resist. The sight of former slaves openly celebrating the Fourth signified a fundamental transformation in the meaning of the holiday. This became especially clear when the Emancipation Proclamation was read out alongside the Declaration — dual symbols, in this newly triumphant version of Independence Day, of the radical ideals of the American revolution.

…Tensions between region and nation long persisted, of course, and well into the 20th century some white Southerners refused to celebrate the Fourth, seeing it as a Yankee holiday. But beginning after the war, and certainly in our own time, white Southerners have mostly had to worry about which fireworks display to attend or whether they can manage one last hot dog — not, as they once did, about whether they should be celebrating the Fourth at all.”

The darkest day in the history of the celebration of July 4th in the South was unquestionably July 4, 1865 when free negroes and Yankee soldiers paraded through the ruins of cities like Charleston and the Emancipation Proclamation was read alongside the Declaration of Independence in front of starving White people.

It wasn’t until well into the twentieth century that July 4th came to be celebrated in the South as it has been in recent decades. Many Southerners never celebrated July 4th again after the scenes of that day in 1865. July 4th was considered a Yankee holiday or a negro holiday.

Note: Consider this a “Civil War Memory” post:

The moral of the story is that the cult of Americanism collapsed in the South in a decade, the celebration of July 4th was transformed under the Confederacy, and it didn’t recover its present meaning in Dixie until after World War II.

About Hunter Wallace 12380 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. Today is a day when the Declaration of Independence is often quoted:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    I believe we are all “created equal” and have equal rights to pursue our own vision of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Unfortunately, the Federal government has all but eliminated my right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” by taking away my right to live free of blacks, muslims and all others who infringe upon my right to enjoy Life unfettered by the ever present fear of violence; Liberty unfettered by the need for home alarm systems, “no go” zones in my own community; ability to use public transit without fear of molestation, even something as simple as being able to go to a public movie theatre with my family and enjoy the entertainment without raucous interruption by blacks and wade through the filth they leave behind.; and the pursuit of Happiness goes without saying – in a society that truly believes in the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, I should be free to live my life in a community free from blacks, muslims and other undesirables, which would allow me to pursue my vision of personal happiness, contentment and security.

    Until that day, when I am truly “free” and able to enjoy the Rights promised to me in the Declaration of Independence, I shall do what I can to achieve those Rights on my own, including:

    -being self-employed so that I do not have to engage in commerce with blacks and muslims

    -home school my children so they will be free of the tyranny of anti-white Marxist indoctrination, and free from the abuse and violence that routinely takes places in schools of blacks on whites

    -complete the paperwork of buying in a co-op which is all-white, and where the corporation is allowed to reject any person’s application for any reason, without providing a rational.

    -lawfully resist onerous taxation which is nothing more than a deliberate wasting of resources and an unethical and illegal transfer of my wealth to blacks

    -continue to resist supporting corporations and institutions which support the framework of BRA, and provide financial and moral support to small, independent white businesses and entrepeneurs.

    Happy 4th. I will not give up on some day achieving the full measure of the “Rights” promised to me by the Founding Fathers 236 years ago.

  2. I disagree with Steinberg’s analysis. We are not “all bound up in one common enterprise.” The entire promise of the Republic was based in the concept of individual liberty. The Marxists have subverted that into coercive capitulation of our individual rights into supporting their version of a “common enterprise”, with the threat of imprisonment and confiscation of property for non-compliance to any of their diktaks.

    As the descendants of Loyalists who abandoned their property and fled to Canada (I reside now very close to the property my ancestors had to flee) I take umbrage with his assertion that the Loyalists were fighting “fellow Americans”. At the time of the first civil war, in 1776, all combatants were still considered British subjects.

    The society that the Loyalists developed upon arrival in Canada was very different from the society that evolved in the “victorious” Republic. And very few Loyalists returned to the US, even though the Treaty dictated that they had the right of return and to reclaim their confiscated lands and property.

  3. “When I look at the Republicans, I am tempted to dismiss them as the Treason Party. Seriously, were a band of traitors to concoct a series of positions deliberately designed to weaken America, they would be hard pressed to beat the current GOP dogma — hobble education, starve the government by slashing taxes to the rich, kneecap attempts to jumpstart the economy by fixating on debt, invite corporations to dominate political discourse, balkanize the population by demonizing minorities and immigrants and let favored religions dictate social policy. ”

    quite a bit of projection there.

  4. I agree that the John Brown incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
    Haiti or secession? Not really much of a choice, is it?Kind of similar to the choice we face today. Seems we are just waiting for our “Harpers Ferry” moment.

    In hindsight, the mischief caused by that regrettable turn of phrase “all men are created equal” does dampen one’s enthusiasm for Declaration of Independence day.

    Excellent commentary and suggestions, Liberty. I would love to hear more about your Loyalist ancestors and their perspective on the united States.

    Deo Vindice

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