WASHINGTON – When Thomas Jefferson held the first Independence Day celebration at the White House 200 years ago, he underscored the fervent prediction made by John Adams in July 1776.
Adams was convinced that the day the United States declared independence would be remembered with celebrations and "illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."
This year, on the 225th anniversary of independence, as rockets flash-freeze the Washington Monument in bolts of patriotic light, Adams' prediction stands unchallenged.
The fact that Jefferson, the declaration's author, and Adams, its foremost advocate, both died on its 50th anniversary, July 4, 1826, cemented the date in the national mind.
In 1831, former President Monroe, one of the last of the revolutionary generation, also died on the Fourth of July, "opening his eyes when the noise of firing began at midnight," it was written.
Over 225 years the celebration has been marked by fireworks, cannon salutes, the blasting of ship horns and the pealing of church bells, band concerts, parades, orations, political rallies and the re-enactment of battles.
An extraordinary compilation of the events of the Fourth of July has been assembled by James R. Heintze, a librarian at American University. Posted on the university's Web site, it includes an ongoing effort to document where presidents were and exactly what they did on each Independence Day.
On July 4, 1861, President Lincoln reported to Congress on Confederate defiance of the national government's insistence on continuing the Union. He reviewed 29 Army regiments newly arrived from New York. And he raised the Stars and Stripes to the top of a 100-foot flagstaff.
Two years later, as news tumbled in of the decisive Union victory at Gettysburg and the fall of the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg, Miss., Lincoln postponed his Independence Day remarks until July 7.
On the Fourth of July, Lincoln said, "the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run."
The celebration of Independence Day was suspended through most of the South after the Civil War. Its gradual restoration over the next 40 years marked the growing reconciliation between the two formerly warring sections.
Daniel Webster, the future senator and secretary of state, delivered the first of his many Fourth of July orations in 1800 as a student at Dartmouth College. He gave his last in 1851 at the laying of the cornerstone of an expanded U.S. Capitol, imploring his country not to abandon the federal Union.
President Polk presided in 1848 over the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. Like so many American ceremonies marking new beginnings, it was held on the Fourth of July.
That was the date chosen in 1828 when John Quincy Adams turned the first shovelful of earth for the building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Adams was the first president to hear the Marine Band play "Hail to the Chief," a musical salute that proved more enduring than the canal.
Fireworks were used from the beginning to give Independence Day a bang and a roar.
The intentions were good, but the consequences were often tragic.
Some 8,000 people were gathered on the South Lawn of the White House on the evening of July 4, 1845, when a stand of 12 rockets suddenly toppled. The exploding missiles went sideways, not up, and sliced through the spectators. Two people were killed.
Fireworks injuries and deaths became so common on Independence Day that efforts were made to restrain the carnage.
In 1909, Washington and other cities declared their first "safe and sane" Fourth of July celebrations aimed at ending fireworks mayhem.
From the 1920s onward, the grounds of the Washington Monument became the place where Americans by the hundreds of thousands celebrated the Fourth.
But on July 4, 1962, President Kennedy chose Philadelphia's Independence Hall to muse on the spirit of liberty.
"The theory of independence is as old as man himself, and it was not invented in this hall," Kennedy said.
"But it was in this hall that the theory became a practice; that the word went out to all, in Thomas Jefferson's phrase, that 'the God who gave us light gave us liberty at the same time."'