Philadelphia’s First Fourth of July Parade


Philadelphia’s First Fourth of July Parade

Certainly one of the granddaddies of all Fourth of July parades was the one held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1788 to commemorate not only the holiday but the fact that ten states had ratified, or approved and signed, the Constitution of the United States. And while countless parades have passed in review since that time, none can beat the exuberance and civic pride of that parade.

People were awakened early that morning in Philadelphia by the sounds of ringing bells and exploding guns. At nine o’clock the parade—a mile and a half long in formation—began, and the excited spectators stood for several hours to see it all.

Leading the parade were several carriages of dignitaries from Pennsylvania and some foreign nations; then came two leading citizens, one dressed in the clothing of the day, the other dressed as an Indian. Both took turns smoking a peace pipe. Floats, consisting of large, horse-drawn platforms on wheels, followed on which people demonstrated various occupations. Fifty-eight trades and professions were represented. Candlemakers, printers, book-binders all exhibited their wares. Schoolboys and college students marched with teachers and professors; their banner read, “The Rising Generation.” Ministers of Christian churches and a Jewish rabbi marched together arm in arm.

Drawn by ten white horses, the Grand Float, entitled “Federal Edifice,” had a roof supported by ten white pillars, which represented the ten states that had already ratified the Constitution.

Another large float, “The Federal Ship Union,” carried twenty mounted guns and a crew of twenty-five men. It had been built on top of a barge once belonging to a British vessel captured by John Paul Jones. Behind it walked a group of shipbuilders and shipfitters. Their banner read, “May Commerce Flourish and Industry Be Rewarded.”

The motto of sixty rope makers caused some laughter: “May the Production of Our Trade Be the Neckcloth of Him Who Attempts to Untwist the Political Rope of Our Union.”

The Manufacturing Society had a long carriage also drawn by ten horses. Its float was a small factory that showed men and women carding, spinning, weaving, and doing various other related jobs. Their banner read, “May the Union Government Protect the Manufacturers of America.”

One hundred thirty bakers made hot buns in a large oven drawn along the parade route and tossed them among the crowd. Their slogan was, “May Our Country Never Want Bread.”

On a wagon drawn by two horses, men made cups and bowls at a potter’s wheel. Above them their banner read, “The Potter Has Power Over His Clay.”

Bricklayers carried a picture of workmen erecting a city in a forest clearing.

A country boy walked behind a plow drawn by four oxen. Following him were farmers sowing seed, millers grinding wheat, grocers with several barrels of flour on a drag, and butchers dressed in white, driving five prize steers. The banner on one of their wagons stated, “We Feed the Poor and Hungry.” After the parade, the flour and cattle were given to the poor.

A blacksmith at a forge hoisted onto a wagon made plow irons and a sickle from old swords. He also made miniature “good luck” horse-shoes and tossed them into the eager hands of the crowd.

A group of cavalry brought up the rear of the procession. Then James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, spoke to the crowd, telling them what a wonderful privilege it was to be able to choose a government instead of having one forced upon them against their wishes. He impressed upon them their duty to vote in elections and to always choose wise and good representatives. He praised those engaged in industries and wished them all peace and happiness.

Following this and other speeches, about 17,000 people sat down to a dinner on Union Green. Ten toasts were given—one for each state that had ratified the Constitution.

It was a merry and noisy Fourth of July, but by six o’clock that evening everyone had gone home, and Union Green became a quiet park again.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch