How American presidents have spent the Fourth of July

Obama fireworksOfficial White House Photo by Pete SouzaFirst Lady Michelle Obama, left, Malia Obama and President Barack Obama watch the Fourth of July fireworks from the roof of the White House, July 4, 2014.

When America has a birthday, the president is expected to throw it a party.

While most of us honour our nation with a cookout and some fireworks, US presidents deliver patriotic speeches, honour troops, and even plan wars.

Others have used the time to recline in presidential fashion, and several have even died on America’s birthday.

Here are some of the most interesting ways presidents have celebrated the Fourth of July.

Elena Schneider wrote an earlier version of this post.

George Washington fell ill on July 4, 1789 and spent the nation's 13th birthday in bed. In fairness to Washington, Fourth of July celebrations didn't really catch on until about 1820, and Independence Day wasn't declared a federal holiday until 1870.

Thomas Jefferson, one of two Presidents to sign the Declaration of Independence, started the White House tradition of celebrating the Fourth of July with the first Independence Day reception in 1801. He is also one of three presidents to die on July 4, along with America's second president, John Adams and its fifth president, James Monroe.

Thomas Jefferson

Source: White House Historical Association

On July 4, 1828, John Quincy Adams attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the excavation of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal at Little Falls located just above Georgetown. He also gave an address, accompanied by music from the US Marine Band.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1906

Source: James Heintze

Zachary Taylor probably had the worst Fourth of July of any president in US history. After attending a ceremony at the Washington Monument on a very hot day in 1850, Taylor went to an outdoor party where he reportedly indulged in a bowl of cherries and cream that had been in the sun all day. Over the following days, Taylor suffered from stomach pains and vomiting. He died a few days later, though the exact cause of death has been a source of debate.

Zachary Taylor's reinterment in 1991.

Source: Houston Press

On July 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln called a special session of Congress to ask for more resources to fight the Civil War. Two years later, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army surrendered at Vicksburg, marking a turning point for the Union in the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln

Source: Papers of Abraham Lincoln and the Miller Center

On July 4, 1870, Ulysses S. Grant was on the presidential train in New England heading for Woodstock, Connecticut. When he arrived in Woodstock, he heard a speech by social reformer Henry Ward Beecher.

Ulysses S. Grant

Source: James Heintze

In 1881, James A. Garfield spent July 4th in bed after being shot twice two days earlier in an assassination attempt by Charles Guiteau. He died from his injuries on September 19. He had only served four months in office.

'An accurate rendering' of the moment when Charles Guiteau shot President James Garfield as Garfield and Secretary of State James G. Blaine entered the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station. This appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 16, 1881.


On July 4, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech to a crowd of 200,000 at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.

Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

Source: James Heintze

On July 4, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson gave an address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. During this speech, he uttered the famous words 'our country, right or wrong.' Wilson spent July 4, 1917 trying to come up with a plan for US military action in World War I.

Woodrow Wilson

Source: American Presidency Project

On July 4, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially turned the library he built in his name in Hyde Park, New York over to the federal government, making it the first presidential library in the US.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt speaking at the FDR Library dedication in 1940.

Source: FDR Library

On July 4, 1952, President Harry Truman attended a Washington Senators baseball game at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C., but left early because of rain. The Yankees would go on to beat the Senators that day 9 to 4.

Harry Truman at Griffith Stadium.

Source: Baseball Almanac

Dwight D. Eisenhower played a LOT of golf. He spent four out of seven of his Independence Days as president on the links.

Source: James Heintze

On July 4, 1961, the Kennedy administration asked Congress for permission to deploy 'anti-subversive' military actions in Latin America.

For America's bicentennial celebration, President Gerald Ford hosted a huge celebration at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the site where the American army camped the winter of 1777 during the Revolutionary War.

Elizabeth II and the 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford, dancing in the East Room at the White House during Her Majesty's state visit to commemorate the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

Source: American Presidency Project

Although he was still recovering from an assassination attempt in 1981, Ronald Reagan managed to have some fun at his first White House Independence Day picnic.

On July 4 in 2000, Bill Clinton and his family visited New York to view the largest maritime assemblage in American history.

President Bill Clinton (in blue shirt) reads the oath of re-enlistment to a group of sailors aboard the USS Hue City (CG 66) on July 4, 2000, in New York Harbour. The president is aboard the Ticonderoga class cruiser to review naval units from around the world for the International Naval Review 2000. First Lady Hillary Rodham-Clinton, watches the ceremony on the president's left.

Source: ABC News

On July 4, 2005, George W. Bush celebrated his 60th birthday two days early with the troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Source: The White House

Last year for the Fourth of July, President Barack Obama spoke at a naturalization ceremony for active-duty service members and civilians. Later, Barack and Michelle Obama hosted military heroes and their families at a White House special Independence Day event. The president ended the day by taking in a fireworks display.

First Lady Michelle Obama, left, Malia Obama and President Barack Obama watch the Fourth of July fireworks from the roof of the White House, July 4, 2014.

Source: The White House

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