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Americanizing The Fourth

( Originally Published 1927 )

(A Suggestion for a Pageant of Liberty.)


THE old, undemocratic idea of honoring the birthday of American independence is embodied in annual explosions of barbarism which have already done to death many more persons than the Revolutionary War destroyed. Indeed, our peaceful celebration seems as much more dangerous than the old style of warfare as small-pox is more dangerous than chicken-pox.

Our new festival in honor of Liberty is — or is soon to be — very different. Instead of a day of pseudo-patriotism,— a Moloch-day sacred to blinding and maiming our little ones, to shredding and roasting them alive, blowing them to bits or allowing them to struggle to their death in the horrible clutch of tetanus —there is proposed a day of the deepest, fairest, most enthusiastic, most genuine patriotism ; a day of emphasis not upon erratic individualism but upon national solidarity ; a day of fun yet of education and inspiration to old as well as young and to all the nations that are now being fused in our gigantic melting pot. In a word, the new movement aims, as it should, to make the Fourth our most profoundly American holiday.

The recent rise of the Independence Day pageant is a by-product of two wide twentieth century movements : the new classicism and the new democracy. The new classicism is behind the current tendency of certain of the arts t0 react from the rich, vague elaboration of an exaggerated romanticism toward plain, clearly organized simplicity. In a word, it is trying to restore a normal balance between the emotional and the intellectual elements in art. In music this movement is led by Max Reger, the modern Bach ; in architecture it is felt in the Art Nouveau and, in America, in such significant buildings as the New York Library and the Pennsylvania Terminal ; in literature in the recent rebirth of the drama, of which the pageant is a near relative. For the pageant has been defined as " a dramatic presentation of the history of a community or 0f the development of a phase of civilization, given by the people themselves."

The movement called the new democracy is slightly older. Under President Roosevelt this country discovered a new and more vital meaning in the old term " democracy." And it has not taken us long to find out that on Independence Day the square deal is less thrillingly symbolized by the maiming and slaughter of innocent thousands through the meaning-less cracker and pistol than by the cooperation 0f all nationalities and social grades on our shores in great, concerted movements, large with the meaning of the past, the present and the future America, and glowing with the local colors of the many peoples that have made and are to make this nation.

The inevitable medium for such expression is the pageant. And though this form of celebration is still in its early infancy and has not yet attained even the modest measure of clarity already reached in other arts by the new classicism, nor even the puny measure of real democracy exhibited to-day by our " square deal " renaissance, yet it is quite as big with promise as they.

The Pageant of Liberty, which is here proposed, is based on the idea that America was the pioneer in that modern struggle for liberty which has played such a striking part in the world's history since 1776. Our War of Independence inspired the French Revolution which, in turn, brandished the torch of liberty through Europe during the nineteenth century until, in our day, the flame has spread to other continents.

This Pageant consists of a parade of simple floats which may or may not end in a dramatic and choral performance 0r " masque " in some athletic field or fair ground or stadium. The floats and their costumed characters are to be the actors in this masque.

These floats need not be elaborate or expensive or hard to construct. In most cases all that is required is a plain large truck, festooned with simple garlands, and with the wheels hidden in oak branches. This truck carries the necessary characters, dressed, of course, in the costume of the period.

There need be none of those complicated, elaborately colored, pyramidal structures of " staff " which endangered the success of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in New York City. For they are difficult and costly to prepare and doubtful of effect. The effect sought should be pictorial rather than sculpturesque. In many cases a single small platform or table is the only " property " required.

The floats in procession represent the history of the modern struggle for liberty. This history, however, may be depicted as fully or as sketchily as the particular resources of each place suggest, each foreign colony in a town working up its own float under central supervision.

In our day most American cities and towns have a large percentage of the foreign born. Let us suppose, for example, that a certain large town consists of the following nine nationalities : Americans, French, Irish, Servians, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, and Persians. In that case its particular pageant would consist of at least ten floats, each attended on foot or horseback by its appropriate escort of the same race, preferably in national costume, and by bands of music playing—perhaps on native instruments—those national airs most nearly identified with the particular historical event set forth.

I. THE AMERICAN float will naturally head the procession, for precedence in this pageant is fixed by the historical order in which the various struggles for liberty occurred.

The American float might represent the Fathers sitting about a table and signing the Declaration of In-dependence, with the Liberty Bell hanging aloft. Or it might be boat-shaped, with Washington in the bow, crossing the Delaware and tattered soldiers straining at the oars or poling away at imaginary ice-cakes.

The other floats would follow in this order :

II. FRANCE. King Louis XVI is forced to recognize General Lafayette, the commander of the new National Guard, on July 17, 1789, and affixes to his own royal garments the tricolor cockade of red, blue and white, the symbol of liberty. This event occurred three days after the storming of the Bastille, a subject that would not lend itself well to pictorial treatment.

III. IRELAND. Some incident from the Rebellion of 1798. The float might be in honor of the patriotic Society of United Irishmen and of their founder, Theobald Wolfe Tone. Or it might represent the dramatic betrayal, on May 19, 1798, of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the promised leader of the revolt.

IV. SERVIA. Some incident from the splendid rebellion of 1804 when the Serbs, who had been galled by the Ottoman yoke for more than four centuries, rose and drove the Turkish dahis out of Servia. Their two leaders were Black George and Milosch who have been called respectively the Achilles and the Ulysses of Servian history. The float might give the crucial moment in the decisive battle of Schabaz, with Black George leading his men against those picturesque standard-bearers 0f the Turkish army, the bravest Begs of Bosnia.

V. GERMANY. It is not so easy to find a moment in the German struggle which is both significant and simple enough for our purpose. Perhaps the " Wart-burg Festival " would answer. Some historians treat this incident in lighter vein, others seriously. But all agree that the government reactionaries took it very much to heart and at once began a reign of tyranny that was largely responsible for the revolutions of '30 and of historic '48. At any rate the Festival would make a most effective float. This was the way it happened.

A couple of years after the battle of Waterloo secret political societies were formed all over Germany among the students and the athletes. These were called the Burschenschaften and the Turners. On October 17, 1818, several hundred of these young fellows met at the Wartburg (the ancient castle which had sheltered Luther after he had defied the pope and the emperor). That evening they gathered about a bonfire and fed it with various symbols of despotism and with the effigies of reactionary books, while, hard by, the Turners did exuberant gymnastic " stunts." This float could be made most realistic with a genuine bonfire and a couple of Turners in the rear performing, perhaps, on a horizontal bar. The decorations should be in black, red and yellow, the colors of German liberty.

VI. GREECE. The float might merely show a group of the picturesquely costumed leaders of the Revolution of 1821. There would be General Kolokotrones, Marco Botzaris (the Suliote chieftain immortalized in Fitz-Greene Halleck's poem), Admiral Miaoulis, Kanaris of fire-ship fame, Karaiskakis, the daring guerilla, and Lord Byron, the poet of revolt, who gave his life for the cause, and without whom there might have been no Greek independence.

A more dramatic subject would be found in the Greeks' welcome of Byron when he arrived at Missolonghi in the fall of 1823. The costumes of this float would be particularly effective.

VII. HUNGARY. One turns naturally to the events of April 14, 1849, when, on Kossuth's motion, the diet proclaimed the independence of Hungary. This ought to be as practicable as to give the signing of our own Declaration.

As an alternative scheme, General Gorgei could be shown, surrounded by the evidences of some of his victories, such as Szolnok, Isaszeg, Vacz, and Nagysarlo.

VIII. ITALY. Italian liberty might well be epitomized in the spectacle of a red-shirted Garibaldi leaning from the balcony of the Foresteria (the balcony could be made out of two packing boxes and a bit of railing) and addressing the jubilant Neapolitans on Sept. 7, 1860, at the close of his conquest of the Two Sicilies.

IX. PERSIA. This unique float would show a handful of the Mujteheds, or higher Mohammedan priests, taking refuge, or " bast " before the shrine of Shah Abdul Azim near Teheran, as they did in 1905. The taking of " bast " in some sanctuary or other place of protection is an old Persian method of political protest. In this case it inaugurated the re-cent revolution which won Persia a constitution.

X. LIBERTY. The final float would be devoted to displaying the charms of the most statuesquely beautiful young woman in the community,— who would be dressed and accoutered rather like the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, only, one hopes, with somewhat better taste.

In this order the procession would parade the principal streets. Then, finally it would march to the stadium (or athletic field) for the dramatic part of the pageant, if this part were found desirable.

But before passing to the masque, a few more suggestions must be offered about the parade.

The idea already outlined is capable of almost in-finite expansion. For most 0f the immigrant nations in our country have undergone struggles that were inspired, directly or indirectly, by 1776.

Suppose a town wishes to celebrate its next Furth with a Liberty Pageant ; — it has merely to select an Independence Day Committee as Springfield did. This committee prepares a list of the different local nationalities, and decides on the most important modern struggle for liberty in the history of each, and finally, on the characters or events that will most simply and effectively epitomize that struggle in float form.

A few picturesque Tyrolese, for instance, could make a thrilling picture of the gallant rising of Andreas Hofer in r809. The Croatians have a spirited picture in the 1849 proclamation of their independence of Hungary. The Poles would find a spirited subject in the rebellion of 1830, which began with a band of brave students trying to seize the Grand Duke Constantine at his palace near Warsaw. Cuba could recall her Declaration of Independence of Oct. 10, 1868, or some event of the late war. Spain could have a Ferrer float. Norway might remind us of her recent bloodless separation from Sweden. Russia, of one of the many dramatic incidents in that long, bitter fight for liberty whose end is not yet in sight.

Not alone by increasing the number of participating nations is this idea capable of almost endless development, but also by increasing the number of floats for each nation. The history of most of the struggles already alluded to contains dozens of alluring subjects. The number need be limited only by the resources and the enthusiasm of the community.

Behind the national floats international ones might follow, representing such world-movements as those for:


So much, then, for the possibilities of expanding the idea. On the other hand it is capable of just as extreme contraction and simplification for use in the smaller, less wealthy communities.

By taking a little more care in costuming the marching escorts an effective pageant could be arranged with only five or six floats.

Indeed, it is not absolutely essential to have floats at all. Nearly all of the situations suggested above could be adequately represented by appropriately costumed groups on foot ; and there would even be this positive advantage, that leaders like Garibaldi and Kolokotrones and Black George might appear at the head of a more realistically adequate body of troops than could be assembled upon a float.

According to this plan the various foes of liberty might also appear in force, and sham battles could be fought in various outskirts of town earlier in the day (let us hope, with noiseless as well as smokeless arms!) before the various units unite in procession.

If the parade is combined with the performance of a specially written masque, the combination would obviate many of the usual objections to the ordinary "safe and sane" Fourth. The masque would pro-vide a most desirable dramatic and educative element. And, by charging a small admission fee, this performance would ordinarily pay the entire expense of the celebration, including the expense of engaging a competent pageant master. Now a pay performance without the free parade might, under the circumstances, be considered an undemocratic way of celebrating what should be our most democratic holiday. But in combination with a free parade the admission fee would be unobjectionable, and the masque would, more than anything else, stimulate that deep, thoughtful patriotism whose lack today is as grave a defect in our barbarous Fourth as its cruelty.

The idea of the masque has as yet been worked out only tentatively. Its development is the business of a dramatic poet. Roughly speaking it would proceed somewhat as follows.

When the procession arrives at the stadium the floats would enter in their historical order, each accompanied however, by only the small, specially trained nucleus of its marching escort. The floats would circle the inclosure once or twice, and then divide into two files, forming a lane of honor through which the Liberty float would move slowly and take up a position in the center of the inclosure.

Its escort would then sing a chorus which ought to be as eloquent and beautiful and suggestive an exposition of the nature of abstract liberty as Swinburne's " Hertha " is of the soul.

When this is finished the Americans would approach this central figure of Liberty and recount, with music and dramatic action, perhaps, their struggle in her honor, ending with America sung with full chorus and band. Then the Americans would take up their position in the secondary place of honor opposite.

Hereupon, keeping to their historic order, each nation would advance and after greeting the American float as the pioneer of liberty, would approach the goddess and briefly recite their deeds in her behalf, each particularly emphasizing the unique qualities which it brought to its own struggle, and which it is ready (by application) to bring t0 any further struggles in the same general cause.

These national recitals might be managed in various ways. Dependent upon the size of the stadium and the available creative talent among the organizers, they might be spoken or sung, solo or in chorus, in prose or verse, or both. Of course it is desirable that the masque should be composed entirely by the best poet and set to music by the most inspired composer obtainable. But it is quite conceivable that local amateurs might rise to very satisfactory heights in an emergency.

Even in case of rain it might still be possible for the leading characters to present this masque upon the stage of the largest local theater concert hall.

After each nation has separately recounted its prowess, and all are grouped effectively around the central figure, Liberty reminds them that though they have done heroic deeds in the past, much remains to accomplish in the present, even in this land of the free. She then proceeds to describe what foes still menace our real freedom in America, such foes as special privilege, mob rule, political corruption, white slavery, treatment of the feeble-minded as common criminals, a capitalistic press, and so on.

Then in the final grand chorus the united nations would join together in proclaiming that, strengthened by their separate struggles overseas, they here and now unite their efforts to make this land, in deed as in name, the land of liberty.

Could anything make more swiftly and surely for national solidarity than in some such way to stimulate each national element in our forming civilization to bring the best it has to the service of the future America? And what more patriotic and fitting deed could be accomplished than to transform the birthday of modern liberty from a day of meaningless destruction into a day of construction fraught with profound and beautiful significance?

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