Facts and Trivia about Fourth of July Celebrations at the White House in the 19th Century ...


The People's House: Thomas Jefferson began the tradition of a public reception to celebrate the Fourth of July in 1801. The mansion was opened to all people. Tables pushed against the walls of the State Dining Room were filled with bowls of punch and plates of sweets. Presidents held these receptions until just after the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant started a new trend for presidents in the late nineteenth century taking a summer vacation at the New Jersey seashore away from Washington's heat.

Parades: John Quincy Adams joined a Fourth of July procession to the Capitol that included a squadron of cavalry and a float on which was a group of young women dressed to represent each of the then twenty four states of the Union. July is hot in Washington and to cool off Adams regularly took early morning skinny dips in the Potomac River.

Turtle Soup: William Henry Harrison died only a month after his inauguration and John Tyler, who succeeded him, held a Fourth of July dinner that year that included turtle soup. A giant 300 pound turtle from Key West had been given to the president as a gift and ended up on the dinner table. That evening Tyler and his guests walked out onto Lafayette Square to enjoy a fireworks display.

A Fatal Fourth: After participating in July 4 ceremonies at the Washington Monument in 1850, Zachary Taylor fell ill. He drank freely of ice water during the event and after reaching the White House gorged on cherries with iced milk. Within five days he was dead. It was believed he contracted cholera. Waterborne diseases, including cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery, were not uncommon in Washington, D.C. before the advent of modern plumbing and sewerage and water chlorination.

A School Festival: On July 4, 1864, Abraham Lincoln attended a fundraiser for African American schools and religious groups in the District of Columbia. He allowed the group to hold a festival on the south grounds of the White House. A great crowd attended and Lincoln and members of his cabinet appeared at the event setting an example of tolerance for the country.

A Summer Concert: The Marine Band performed weekend summer concerts on the south grounds of the White House from June to September for many years. In 1886, Grover Cleveland and his new bride Frances Folsom made an appearance on the South Portico at a Fourth of July concert. The crowd rushed to get a view of the new first lady. As the president saw the huge crowd approaching, he waved to them with his straw hat and hurried Mrs. Cleveland indoors. The crowd then flocked back to the concert.

»  Thomas Jefferson & the First Fourth of July Celebration at the President's House


Presidential & First Lady July Birthdays:

July 11, 1767 - John Quincy Adams; Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts

July 30, 1768 - Elizabeth Monroe; New York City, New York

July 25, 1775 - Anna Harrison; Walpack Township, New Jersey

July 21, 1864 - Frances Cleveland; Buffalo, New York

July 4, 1872 - Calvin Coolidge; Plymouth Notch, Vermont

July 14, 1913 - Gerald R. Ford; Omaha, Nebraska

July 6, 1923 - Nancy Reagan; New York City, New York

July 28, 1929 - Jacqueline Kennedy; Southampton, New York


Prominent July Deaths:

July 4, 1826 - John Adams; Quincy, Massachusetts

July 4, 1826 - Thomas Jefferson; Charlottesville, Virginia

July 4, 1831 - James Monroe; New York City, New York

July 9, 1850 - Zachary Taylor; Washington, D.C.

July 24, 1862 - Martin Van Buren; Kinderhook, New York

July 31, 1875 - Andrew Johnson; Carter's Station, Tennessee

July 16, 1882 - Mary Lincoln; Springfield, Illinois

July 23, 1885 - Ulysses S. Grant; New York City, New York

July 10, 1889 - Julia Tyler; Richmond, Virginia


White House Wedding:

July 30, 1942 - Harry Hopkins (assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) married Louise Gill Macy in the Second Floor Oval room (then the President's study).



«  Historical Themes: The Fourth of July




Illustration of the White House and South Lawn, c. 1835. The White House




Illustration of the White House from the Potomac River, c. 1841. The White House




South view of the White House, 1855. The White House




A photograph taken by Theodor Horydczak, 1940. The Library of Congress