Early American 4th of July Mini-Syllabus

This is going to be a very quick post, because it’s the 4th of July and a barbecue is waiting for me outside. I haven’t proofread this, so expect this to be an unpolished draft for now. Here’s why I’m taking time out of my 4th of July celebrations to write a blog post:

I was just out buying some food and drinks for the barbecue, and I was keenly aware of the tension buried beneath the beer, barbecue, and fireworks of the 4th of July. I starting thinking about it as I wished various people a “Happy Fourth.” Specifically, it was the cashiers and the people I met in the parking lots of the two stores I went to who made me think of this. I don’t know their stories and I can’t speak for them, but, after doing so much periodical research over the past three years and uncovering so many texts about the meaning of the 4th of July by underrepresented authors of early America, I felt very conscious of the disparity between my own experience of the holiday and these other individuals’ experience of it: they’re working while I’m shopping; one of them (an immigrant) most likely has seen/felt the reality of the current administration’s policies more acutely than I have from my safe vantage point; several of them may have been descended from enslaved people right here in America (with all of it’s promises of glory).

Thoughts of immigration, of racial demonstration and protest, and the 4th of July in particular made me think of the many 4th of July texts I found during my dissertation research deep in the periodicals of the early American mid-Atlantic. So here are a few texts (some of which are of speeches) that could be the start of what I’ve always thought would be a great syllabus/course on the Fourth of July. Some focus on joyous celebration and others focus on issues of liberty and injustice. A heads-up: I ran out of time before I could post most of the texts, but I’ll get back to this in a few days! Here are a few to start you off.

Spoken poem by William Pitt Palmer, 7/4/1828. From Freedom’s Journal, 8/29/1828. (Freedom’s Journal= first African-American owned newspaper ever!)

“The Slave Ship” (also spoke by William Pitt Palmer on 7/4/28). Freedom’s Journal, 9/12/1828


Anonymous poem from the Centinel of Freedom, 7/9/1799

Poem from Centinel of Freedom, 7/2/1799


Ah, I’m being summoned so I’ll have to stop here and pick up again soon. I’ll post it now, though, for 4th of July reflections.

And of course if you haven’t read Frederick Douglass’ “What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July” or Margaret Fuller’s “Fourth of July,” those are great texts that are more standard than the ones above.

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