A Primer for the Study of Independence Day Orations

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved


The following is a list of orations that are recommended readings for a better understanding of the depth and scope of speeches presented on Independence Day in the 18th-19th centuries. Each address is unique in its own right and annotations provide brief summaries of what readers can expect to learn by reading them. Entries are cited in alphabetical order by orator. Access to the full text of the speeches will be made available in the near future.
Barbour, James (1775-1842). Speech given in the Hall of the House of Representatives at the Capitol on July 4, 1826.
Secretary of War James Barbour speaks out on behalf of soliciting financial support of Thomas Jefferson who died at approximately the same time the speech was delivered. An eloquent appeal and an excellent example of an address which departed from typical elocutionary traditions on the Fourth of July.
Black Hawk (1767-1838). Fourth of July speech at Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1838.
A subordinate chief of the Sauk and Fox Indians who participated in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Upon his defeat Black Hawk was permanently relocated to Iowa and was invited as an "illustrious guest" for the Fourth of July ceremony held at the fort. He spoke briefly but sentimentally that he would never forget his homeland near the Mississippi River and asked Americans "to keep it as we did."
Custis, George Washington Parke (1781-1857). Address at Arlington, Virginia, on July 4, 1825.
Americans early on felt compassion and expressed support for independence movements in other parts of the globe, notably Ireland and South America. Commentary on Ireland appeared in speeches given throughout the nineteenth century. Custis, a step-son of George Washington, spent his life as a dilettante, heralding the life of the president. Custis presented no less than sixteen Fourth of July orations. This address, one of his only two published Fourth of July speeches, is an early example of an Independence Day narrative that focuses on the political struggles in Ireland and South America. His other published oration was presented at the Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1804. See Washington Federalist, 16 July 1804, 2.
Douglass, Frederick (1818-1895). The Color Question: An Address Delivered in Washington, D.C., on July 5, 1875.
Douglass once again provides an answer to his question "What to the slave is the Fourth of July," originally addressed in his most famous speech of July 4, 1852, in Rochester, New York. In this tract, Douglass discusses the new peace in the nation and its impact on African-Americans.
Everett, Edward (1794-1865). Speech on July 4, 1853, at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Access oration.
Secretary of state, senator, governor of Massachuestts and exemplary orator who, at the height of his career, was considered by contemporary testimony on a par with Daniel Webster, America's foremost orator. Everett presented no less than eight Fourth of July orations spanning 1828-61. The 1853 Independence Day address was given shortly after he had been elected senator but left office after only one year due to declining health. He spoke about the veneration of the Fourth and cautioned his audience not to be too eager for the nation's progress to move quickly. "Young America is a very honest fellow-- he means well, but, like other young folks, he is sometimes a little too much in a hurry."
Fraser, Charles (1782-1860). An oration, delivered in St. Michael's Church, before the inhabitants of Charleston, on the 4th of July, 1808: in commemoration of American independence by appointment of the American Revolution Society, and published at the request of that society.
Lawyer, writer, and foremost miniaturalist painter of his time in Charleston, South Carolina. His 1808 oration was a poetic and sentimental espousal of the importance of public virtue for the maintenance of liberty. Fraser was one of the first to recognize a change in national perspective brought about by the increasing deaths of the generation of Revolutionary War patriots.
French, Benjamin Brown (1800-1870). Oration on the presentation of a memorial block of marble for the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia by the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia, on July 4, 1870.
French, a distinguished and highly regarded resident of Washington, presents an enjoyable narrative that combines facts on the history of Washington with reminiscences and poetry. He makes an appeal for the Washington Monument that was under construction to be completed as soon as humanly possible.
Gardiner, John (1733?-1793). An oration, delivered July 4, 1785, ar the request of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, in celebration of the anniversary of American independence.
Attorney and political radicalist who according to Stephen Elliot James presented the first Independence Day address styled as a literary piece and as a model for the development of public orator skills. Attached to his oration is a twenty-page addendum that was meant to serve as a statement of instruction in the art of elocution.
Garfield, James Abram (1831-1881). Address on July 4, 1880, at the dedication of a soldiers' monument in Painesville, Ohio.
20th president of the U.S. whose Fourth of July speech focused on the importance of the monument and as a symbol that one should relinguish one's life, if asked, on behalf of the country. Was his address a premonitory sign of an assassin's bullet a year later on July 2, 1881?
Garrison, William Lloyd (1805-1879). An address at Park Street Church, Boston, July 4, 1829.
A landmark oration by this newspaper editor and significant abolitionist of the nineteenth century and who is credited by some as "marking the beginning of the American abolitionist crusade." This was Garrison's first Fourth of July speech and it was directed to members of the American Colonization Society.
Grow, Galusha Aaron (1822-1907). Speaker of the House Inaugural Address given in the House of Representatives, July 4, 1861.
The only U.S. Speaker of the House to be elected to that position on the Fourth of July on the occasion of the first convening ever of Congress on Independence Day. Grow, a Representative from Pennsylvania, upstaged Lincoln's address to Congress which was to be presented that day but was held over for its reading on July 5. Grow's speech is little known today. It includes a tribute and homage to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, followed by his plea for the preservation of the government and the nation, as several states had seceded from the Union. When Grow finished his address he received a tumultuous round of applause and cheers from the floor and packed galleries.
Haynes, Lemuel (1753-1833). The Nature and Importance of True Republicanism, with a few suggestions, favorable to independence. A discourse, delivered at Rutland [Vermont], the Fourth of July, 1801
Revolutionary war veteran and pastor who was the first African-American to give a public Independence Day address. Later Haynes became "the first African American with an advanced degree from a white college."
Hubball, Elitia (fl. 1821). Address on July 4, 1821, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Public addresses by women in th early nineteenth century were rare. However, women sought out opportunities to speak in public and presentation ceremonies for flags and banners presented to soldiers were popular and afforded them that venue. In this speech Hubball advocates for the propriety of the citizen soldier and his responsibilities as she presents a standard to the Company of Light Infantry commanded by Capt. Nicholas Blasdell.
Jones, Skelton (d. 1812). Funeral oration on July 4, 1807, in Richmond, Virginia.
Publisher, lawyer, and orator who delivered a compelling address in response to the battering of the American frigate Chesapeake by the British warship Leopard on June 22 off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. It was reported that "Richmond was on that day the miniature of the nation" and Jones addressed a crowd that was aroused and incensed. This address is one of the earliest and signicant testimonies of its kind prior to the War of 1812.
Key, Francis Scott (1779-1843). Oration delivered by Francis S. Key, Esq., in the Rotundo of the capitol of the U. States, on the 4th of July, 1831.
American lawyer and author of the national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner" who gave his first Fourth of July speech in Washington City in the rotunda of the Capitol. Key addresses supporters of President Andrew Jackson and attempts to moderate opposing sentiments in a politically divided city. Similar to the inspiration reflected in the text to the national anthem, Key's use of words is poetic and speaks to the national reverence of the day. "The spectacle of a happy people, rejoicing in thankfulness before God and the world for the blessing of civil liberty, is no vain pageant."
Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865). Independence Day address on July 7, 1863.
Presented three days after Washington had celebrated the holiday, this address, although brief, was one of the most poignant statements in the nineteenth century. The wording and theme of the July 7 address bears remarkable resemblance to the Gettysburg Address that Lincoln was to present on November 7.
Mann, Horace (1796-1859). An oration, delivered before the authorities of the city of Boston, July 4, 1842. Access oration.
Educator and statesman who played a significant role in the educational reform movement in America presented this significant oration on education on July 4, 1842. Breaking with traditional oratory expectations that glorified the country, Mann's theme addressed the importance of public education and espoused the principle that effective self-government depended on a well-education populace.
Ramsay, David (1749-1815). An oration on the advantages of American Independence: spoken before a publick assembly of the inhabitants of Charlestown in South-Carolina, on the second anniversary of that glorious area (Charlestown, 1778).
Historian and politician who gave the first Fourth of July oration in the country on July 4, 1778. In this landmark speech, Ramsay was one of the first to encourage a national consciousness for the possibilities of the new nation. His views about independence were shaped through his vision of a nation having a unique cultural identity and political framework.
Sherman, William Tecumseh (1820-1891). Address in Salem, Illinois, on July 4, 1866.
Civil War general and graduate from West Point (1840), who is best known for his invasion of Georgia when he captured Atlanta (September 1864) and commenced his "March to the Sea" taking Savannah (December). Sherman was loathed by many in the South for his pillaging and destruction of everything within a 60-mile wide swath of land, 300 miles in length. In this little-known speech before a mostly friendly crowd of 25,000, Sherman defended his actions and argued that his military strategy ultimately saved the lives of Union soldiers.
Sumner, Charles (1811-1874). The true grandeur of nations: an oration delivered before the authorities of the city of Boston, July 4, 1845. Access oration.
This politician and reformer was concerned about the horrors of war. With conflict with Mexico and Great Britain looming, he used the occasion to attack the nation's militarism. War, he said, was inconsistent with "true greatness."
Twain, Mark (1835-1910). Fourth of July speech in London, July 4, 1873.
As America's humorist, Twain was one of the first to represent his country through Independence Day speech-making in London. In this address, Twain dealt good-hearted jibes at American incongruities.
Varnum, James M. (1748-1789). An Oration delivered at Marietta, July 4, 1788, by the Hon. James M. Varnum, Esq. One of the Judges of the Western Territory.
The first Fourth of July oration west of the Alleghany Mountains, in the Northwestern Territory that was an eloquent assurance for the future of those living in the area and the protections of the Constitution that were extended to them.
Webster, Daniel (1782-1852). Mr. Webster's address at the laying of the corner stone of the addition to the Capitol; July 4th, 1851. Access oration.
Frequently cited as the most recognized American orator of the nineteenth century, Webster presents here his last Fourth of July oration at a significant national event.
Webster, Fletcher (1813-1862). An oration delivered before the authorities of the city of Boston in the Tremont Temple, July 4, 1846.
Lawyer, soldier, and eldest son of Daniel Webster who delivered a stirring oration in Boston in response to Charles Sumner's oration the year before. His words were an address to "some weak-minded but well disposed New England ministers" who opposed war with England in 1812 and through their influence created a "cant of peace among us." Webster presented a carefully worded and extensive rationale supporting his notion that while peace is preferred, "war is not morally wrong." Death on the battlefield is an acceptable price to pay. Prophetically Webster was killed on August 30, 1862, at the second battle of Bull Run.
Webster, Noah (1758-1843). An oration pronounced before the citizens of New-Haven on the anniversary of the independence of the United States, July 4th, 1798.
America's most important educator, lexicographer and "the father of American copyright," offers a testimony to American commerce and the necessity for "guarding the independence and government of our country from the arts and the assaults of European nations."
Wilson, Henry (1812-1875). Speech of Hon. Henry Wilson, July 4, 1865.
This U.S. Senator from Massachusetts was an ardent supporter of abolition and civil rights. On this Fourth of July he gave a stirring speech in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Monument Association event, the first national African-American Independence Day celebration.
Wright, Francis (1795-1852). Speech on July 4, 1828. Access oration.
Women's rights advocate and social critic who was the first female to present a formal oration on the Fourth of July in 1828 and which was printed as a separate pamphlet. According to Howard Hastings Martin ("Orations on the Anniversary of American independence, 1777-1876," Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1955), Wright presented a "clear statement of the doctrine of progress in her oration at New Harmony, Indiana, in 1828."

This page last updated July 2009.

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