For most Americans, the Fourth of July means a cookout, apple pie, parades and fireworks. But for the leader of the country, the day isn’t usually that simple. In fact, you may be surprised with how some of America’s leaders have spent their Independence Day holidays while in office.
From winning wars to celebrating birthdays with the troops, some presidents actually get to live out the cinematic Fourth of July fantasies of what it’s like to be commander-in-chief. Others have enjoyed more peaceful festivities, like parades and White House fireworks. One president even spent Independence Day on his deathbed.
Needless to say, it is usually an action-packed day for the President of the United States. Here are some of the most interesting ways presidents have celebrated the Fourth of July.
The country's first president didn't do much to celebrate the 13th birthday. Washington was reportedly ill on July 4, 1789, and spent the day in bed. But he did write a letter to the New York State Society of the Cincinnati, stating he had received their congratulations on that day, according to The Writings of George Washington.
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.
Jefferson was also one of three consecutive presidents to die on the Fourth of July. Both he and John Adams, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the country's independence. James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, died on July 4, 1831.
William Henry Harrison never made it to the Fourth of July — he died on April 4, 1841 during the first year of his first term.
Taylor probably had the worst Fourth of July of any president in U.S. history. After attending a ceremony at the Washington Monument on a very hot day, 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.
Some historians argue that it was cholera or dysentery, but it still probably wasn't a good idea to eat food cooked in the July sun. There have also been theories that Taylor was assassinated, but a 1991 test of his remains found no evidence of poisoning.
Fourth of July holidays were action-packed during the Lincoln administration.
On his first Independence Day as president, Lincoln called an 'extraordinary' session of Congress and delivered his famous Fourth of July address, which laid out his reasons for going to war with the South and asked Congress to retroactively approve the suspension of habeas corpus.
Two years later, on July 4, 1863, the Confederate Army surrendered at Vicksburg, marking a turning point in for the Union in the Civil War. Although Lincoln didn't learn about it until a few days later, he celebrated the victory with another famous 'Fourth of July' speech, delivered to a massive crowd from an upper window at the White House.
Woodrow Wilson spent July 4, 1917 trying to come up with a plan for U.S. military action in World War I.
Dwight Eisenhower played a LOT of golf — he spent four out of seven of his Independence Days as president on the links.
For the country's bicentennial celebration, Ford hosted a huge celebration at Valley Forge, Pa., the site where the American army camped the winter of 1777 during the Revolutionary War. He signed legislation there that transferred ownership of the land to the National Park Service.
He closed out the historic day with a visit to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Although he was still recovering from an assassination attempt, Ronald Reagan still managed to have some fun at his first White House Independence Day picnic.
Bush celebrated his 60th birthday two days early with an Independence Day visit to Fort Bragg in North Carolina in 2006. The troops presented the president with a candle-lit birthday cake.
Barack Obama also celebrates another special occasion on Independence Day — his daughter Malia's birthday
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