The Fourth of July is an American holiday unlike any other. Fireworks, patriotic parades, baseball, beer and barbecues are holiday traditions across the nation in the middle of summer. July 4 also has special meaning in terms of American politics over the past 236 years.
1776: Declaration of Independence
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia as leaders from the 13 English colonies presented grievances to King George III. "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..." starts the founding document. A dozen years later, the 13 colonies all ratified the U.S. Constitution and the United States was born.
1803: Louisiana purchase announced
President Thomas Jefferson announced to the American people the French territory of Louisiana was purchased. The announcement ended months of negotiating with Napoleon who was strapped for money in his quest to conquer Europe. Jefferson's purchase, along with congressional approval, nearly doubled the size of the United States. Thirteen states or parts of states were eventually formed from the land in the original Louisiana Purchase.
1826: Death of two titans
On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two of the document's signers passed away within hours of each other. Jefferson died July 4, 1826, at his Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Va. Five hours later, John Adams passed away in Quincy, Mass. The History Channel states Adams' apocryphal words upon his deathbed were "Jefferson still survives." Ironically, he couldn't possibly know that Jefferson died hours earlier. The two presidents were rivals until the end and were also the last two major revolutionaries still alive when they died.
1831: James Monroe died
Former president James Monroe also died on Independence Day, five years after Jefferson and Adams and shortly after moving to New York City. Monroe was the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825 and was a young lieutenant in the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War started.
1872: Calvin Coolidge born
Calvin Coolidge was born July 4, 1872, in Plymouth, Vt. He rose to become the 30th president of the United States from 1923 to 1929. Coolidge was Warren G. Harding's vice president until Harding died in office.
1960: 50-star flag debuted
The 50-star American flag debuted July 4, 1960, at 12:01 a.m. as it was first flown over Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. A year earlier, the 49-star flag first flew over Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The two stars were added due to the admittances to the union of Alaska and Hawaii. Although the two states weren't officially granted statehood on Independence Day, the symbolic nature of the flags brought Alaska and Hawaii into the union for all Americans to see.
The 50-star flag has been in use the longest of any flag in our nation's history. The addition of Hawaii as a state was significant in American political history as the (somewhat controversial) birthplace of President Barack Obama.
William Browning is a research librarian specializing in U.S. politics. Born in St. Louis, Browning is active in local politics and served as a campaign volunteer for President Barack Obama and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
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