By February, however, he came up with another way — essentially taking over the annual Fourth of July event in Washington. In a message posted on Twitter, he announced a “Salute to America” on Independence Day, featuring a “major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”
His administration decided to move the fireworks to West Potomac Park near the Potomac River from the National Mall, and it may add a second concert stand, but it was only on Wednesday that the president’s plan to make a speech himself was confirmed.
The Fourth of July, marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was not made a holiday until 1870, and the federal government did not deem it an official holiday until 1938.
In the decades since, the celebration on the Mall has become a popular event for residents and tourists, who pack the space between the Capitol and the monuments, setting out blankets for picnics, throwing Frisbees and enjoying music by bands like the Beach Boys.
A parade down Constitution Avenue usually includes marching bands, fife and drum corps, floats, drill teams and lots of flags. The National Symphony Orchestra traditionally plays Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” complete with cannon fire, just before the fireworks start around 9 p.m., broadcast live across the nation since 1947. In addition to the hundreds of thousands usually gathered on the Mall, many others watch from rooftops across the region or from boats on the nearby Potomac River.
Presidents typically have stayed away, instead leaving town or hosting guests in the White House or on the South Lawn, where they could watch the fireworks. An exception was President Harry S. Truman, who spoke in 1951 from the Washington Monument to mark the 175th anniversary of the country. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan made a speech on July 3 from the Jefferson Memorial to propose an economic initiative, but did not insert himself into the big celebration the next day.
The event has on occasion produced political sensations. When James G. Watt, the interior secretary under Reagan, banned the Beach Boys and other rock bands in 1983, an uproar ensued. Among those who protested the decision were Nancy Reagan and Vice President George Bush. By the next year, Mr. Watt was out of office and the Beach Boys were back.