As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day and to enjoy our town’s seventy-fifth consecutive Fourth of July Parade, it’s time to take stock of this local tradition. How did Andover celebrate this holiday in its early years?
Although Andover had its raw beginnings before the country did, there were probably no Fourth of July celebrations here in the first few decades after the Revolutionary War. Nearby New London, a somewhat younger town, apparently held its first such celebration in 1804; and the letter reporting on the event noted that “several gentlemen and ladies from Andover, Springfield, Warner, Sutton, and Kearsarge-Gore” were in attendance, suggesting that these towns did not have their own celebrations yet.
The first account of an Andover celebration I have found dates from 1814. (Two of the presiding dignitaries were from adjacent towns, New London and Wilmot, so possibly the towns in this area were still taking turns hosting the celebration.) The event started with a bang (“The morning was ushered in by the discharge of a cannon”), proceeded through the day’s ceremonial formalities (the flag-raising, a procession of four or five hundred people to a hilltop, a prayer, a speech for the occasion), and then moved to a long set of formal resolutions that were all unanimously passed. It concluded with a series of toasts, which would have been occasion for a good amount of drinking.
Many of the resolutions were somber; and this is unsurprising, because our country was at war in 1814, and the war was going badly. The security and even the continued existence of the still-young United States were genuinely in question. So, following upon the early resolutions celebrating “the liberties achieved by our worthy ancestors, and bequeathed to us as a legacy at the expense of their blood” and vowing that “so ought we to devote our lives and fortunes if necessary to transmit the all-important privileges by them obtained unimpaired to posterity,” an anxious note quickly entered. There is regret that some Americans are “attempting to palliate the aggressions of the enemy” and “discouraging enlistments,” consolation in the knowledge that the administration has tried “to terminate [the war] by every honorable mean in their power,” and joy that the American people seem “determined to support the Constituted Authorities of the nation” despite efforts “to alienate [them] from their government” and to “alienate any portion of our beloved country from the rest.” Interestingly, there is also a strong affirmation that “liberty of the Press should not be abridged.” The final resolution – a resolve, indeed – contemplates potential disaster: “if our liberties are to be destroyed, our Republic overturned—if this fair fabric of freedom which was raised at the expense of so much blood and treasure, is destined to fail—we will embody around the Constitutions of our fathers, and never assent to anything short of ‘Liberty or Death.’”
What a difference a few years make! The celebration on July 4, 1816, with the war over and the nation at peace, was celebratory indeed. This time a band of some sort was present, and a dinner was laid on for the celebrants after the patriotic oration of the day. The after-dinner toasts (at least seventeen in number, all “accompanied with the discharge of cannon, musquetry, and lively flourishes of music”) gave glorious opportunities for both noise making and drinking. (A sample: “Our gallant Tars – May they snatch the trident of the Ocean from brutal hands and bear it triumphantly with our National Flag.”)
The same celebration a year later was similar in spirit and tone but conducted on an even grander scale. After the formal procession to the Meeting-House (in East Andover), the services included music by a band, a prayer, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence before the culminating oration and closing anthem. Then followed a procession out to the green, where all “partook of a rich repast.” Afterwards various “sentiments” were adopted by the company. “What added to the brilliancy of the ceremony,” the New Hampshire Patriot article reported, “was the novel spectacle of between one and two hundred ladies in white apparel, who walked in the centre of the procession.” (Apparently this novelty became something of a tradition; it still made part of the arrangements nine years later.) Also, particularly noteworthy was “an elegant flagstaff, upwards of 100 feet in height, upon which was placed during the day, the starry ensign of the union.” (As a reference point, the flagstaff stands on the Andover Centre green today is approximately 40 feet in height. This one was more than two and a half times taller!)
Andover’s Fourth of July celebrations apparently continued in this wise for another ten years, culminating in the grand 50th anniversary celebration of 1826. By 1828, however, the commemoration (which took place this time in Andover Centre, at the New Meeting House) was strikingly, and distressingly, different – even though both the program and the presiding dignitaries were much the same as before. In 1828, there was no longer a simple Andover township celebration; instead there was a “Democratic Republicans of Andover” celebration. One political party, the new Jacksonian faction of the old Democratic Republican party, had commandeered the occasion, and now proceeded to make a partisan weapon of it.
Political factionalism had become significant and increasingly fierce before and especially during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, and American “party politics” was born during this time. The old Democratic Republican party was fracturing, the old Federalist party fading, and in 1828, an election year, the contest between incumbent Adams and challenger Andrew Jackson became what one eminent historian has called “probably the dirtiest in American history.” Andover’s elders had felt the early tremors of these developments back in 1817 and had guarded against them: the 1817 Fourth of July celebration, for example, proceeded “without distinction of political parties,” included an “impartial” oration, and adopted this resolution on “Party Spirit – Incompatible with the principles of liberty, may it be extirpated by a steady adherence to correct principles.” But by 1828 “Party Spirit” had won the day, and Andover was no exception.
The celebration got off to a contentious start: “some of the most degraded of the opposition” had stolen the cannon that the Republicans had procured for their event, but another cannon was quickly found. The formal events in the meeting house – procession, music, prayers, reading of the Declaration of Independence, speech – were as before. But the dinner afterward was for “subscribers”; and the toasts that followed were often nastily partisan (for example, “John Quincy Adams. His political hypocrisy, profuse expenditures, . . . his deserting one party to get office, and betraying the other to keep it; eminently qualify him for retirement to private life”). Worse, some of these partisan toasts also struck close to home. In particular, there were two toasts directed at Jacob B. Moore, a young New Hampshire man already prominent as a publisher and political figure. (Moore had earlier, in 1822, written and published A Topographical and Historical Sketch of the Town of Andover, our first town history. Later in life he would be one of the founders of the New Hampshire Historical Society.) First came this toast from the toastmaster: “Jacob B. Moore. The sexton who rings the Bell of New Hampshire; he must have his spades and pick axes in good order, for on the fourth of March next he must bury the Coalition in the six Coffins.” And then this one, channeling Aesop, came from the floor: “Jacob B. Moore. And as a certain benevolent man walked out one frosty morning, he found a snake benumbed and helpless; he took him to his house and warmed him, and lo! The serpent bit his Benefactor.”
(Some quick background here: earlier in 1828 a Philadelphia publisher printed an anti-Jackson handbill or broadside prominently featuring six coffins, calling attention to the six militiamen executed by Jackson’s orders in questionable circumstances in Mobile in late February 1815, some six weeks after the Battle of New Orleans and a few days after the news of the peace treaty had arrived. This “coffin handbill,” and take-offs from it, circulated widely during the 1828 campaign. Samuel Bell, senator from New Hampshire, was aligned with the anti-Jacksonian, Quincy/Clay “Coalition.” The winner of the presidential election would be inaugurated on March 4.)
Jacob B. Moore was a native son of Andover. His father, for whom he had been named, had been an important and popular figure in Andover – the town doctor, a Justice of the Peace, occasionally a Selectman, frequently the Town Clerk. When his father died in 1813,Jacob Moore, then sixteen, had moved to Concord to apprentice himself to Isaac Hill, publisher of the New Hampshire Patriot (who later would become a New Hampshire Senator and then Governor). Moore thrived in the business and became Hill’s partner in 1819; then, in 1820, he married Hill’s sister and became Hill’s brother-in-law as well. The two men apparently worked well together; but by 1826 their political differences had grown, and Moore then left their partnership — on amicable terms, from all I can learn — and established a new newspaper, the New Hampshire Journal, which became an organ of the “National Republicans” (the New Hampshire Patriot, on the other hand, was fiercely Jacksonian).
So, Jacob B. Moore was the “serpent” of the parable-toast, foolishly taken in by and then turning on his benefactor, Isaac Hill. Many townspeople in Andover still remembered Jacob as a fine, upstanding youth, a classic instance of “local boy makes good,” and many, many more gratefully remembered his father. But this was party politics now; this was war. By 1828, even the Fourth of July celebration, in Andover and in so many other parts of the country as well, had fallen prey to “Party Spirit.”