“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.”
– John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) written in a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776.
The Story Behind the Quote
The date of July 2 was important as this had been the date when the Continental Congress had voted to declare its independence from Britain.
People remember this speech as it suggests celebrations should be held to commemorate such an important decision. People have followed John Adams’ suggestion by celebrating Independence with a commemorative holiday, as they have until this day, and shall continue as long as America remains a free nation. The written Declaration of Independence was completed on July 4, 1776, which is why Independence Day is celebrated on the Fourth of July.
The document of the Declaration of Independence was not signed until August 2, 1776.
When he wrote to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, John Adams was well aware that such a tumultuous decision would not have been free from risk. His letter continued:
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
A photograph of the actual letter to Abigail Adams can be seen here. The original resolution that led to the July 2 vote – the original Declaration of Independence – can be seen here.
The papers and letters of John Adams and his family can be seen in an online archive created by the Massachusetts Historical Society. John Adams went on to become the second president of the United States, a role he held from 1797 until 1801.
In June 1826, aged 91, he wrote of the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and warned that the political offices of the United States could in the future be abused:
My best wishes, in the joys, and festivities, and the solemn services of that day on which will be completed the fiftieth year from its birth, of the independence of the United States: a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race, destined in future history to form the brightest or the blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall, in time to come, be shaped by the human mind.
On July 4, 1826, on that fiftieth anniversary of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams passed away in his home in Quincy, Massachusetts.