The United States Marine Band marches through the crowd prior to President Obama's remarks at a Fourth of July barbecue at the White House in 2013. / Pool Getty Images
When America declared its independence back in 1776, John Adams wrote wife Abigail that future generations should celebrate the day "with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other."
Adams couldn't have predicted how presidents themselves would come to mark the day - both to promote patriotism and their political agendas.
Over the past 238 years, the nation's presidents - from George Washington and Adams himself to current commander-in-chief Barack Obama - have found a variety of ways to commemorate the Fourth of July and the ideals of the day.
Whether it's a barbecue on the White House lawn - as Obama plans again this year for military service members - or a visit to an historical shrine like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, presidents have sought to summon the patriotic spirit of the founders.
Many presidents have also tailored July 4 ceremonies to fit the times, whether they involve civil war or foreign threats of terrorism.
"They try to represent what is on the mind of the American people at that particular time," said James Heintze, a librarian emeritus at American University who has studied presidential activities on July Fourth.
In recent years, veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had pride of place at Independence Day ceremonies at the White House and elsewhere.
In addition to the barbecue on the South Lawn, on Friday Obama, as he has in previous years, will preside at a naturalization ceremony for immigrant active duty military service members, veterans, reservists and spouses.
"This Independence Day will be their first day as American citizens," Obama said earlier this week.
At last year's military barbecue, Obama said that "on July 4, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please." The president told members of the military they are "part of a long line of folks who are willing to fight for those ideals."
Presidents have echoed similar sentiments in July 4 ceremonies that have evolved over time.
President George Washington and his successor, Adams, had relatively low-key Fourth of July commemorations, back when the national capital was located first in New York City and then in Philadelphia. Adams moved into the White House in late 1800.
(Adams, by the way, initially believed Independence Day celebrations would be on July 2, the day the Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence. Over the years, however, Americans began to celebrate July 4, the day the Congress approved the actual document known as the Declaration of Independence.)
In general, presidents like to meet with large groups of people on July 4. In the early days, they even threw open the doors of the White House to greet members of the public.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president and Adams' successor, held the first Fourth of July reception at the Executive Mansion in 1801.
In more recent times, amid heavy security around the president, White House holiday events are by invitation only.
Presidents also like going to famous places on July 4, Heintze said. Gettysburg, Valley Forge and Philadelphia's Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed) have been on holiday presidential schedules.
The Fourth of July also holds a somber place in presidential history.
Adams and Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Another early president, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831.
On a happier note, one president was born on the Fourth of July (Calvin Coolidge in 1872). So was at least one presidential family member: Malia Obama, who turns 16 on Friday.
Presidents have often used the holiday as a call for renewal of the nation's heritage.
As the nation faced Civil War on July 4, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called an extraordinary session of Congress to discuss the crisis and urge national unity.
Eighty years later, with Nazi Germany in control of Western Europe and imperial Japan threatening the Pacific, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a somber address from his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., on July 4, 1941.
The United States broke from Great Britain to fight for its freedom, Roosevelt said, but "the fundamentals of 1776 are being struck down abroad and definitely they are threatened here."
Little more than five months later, the United States plunged into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, often discussed the war on terrorism during July 4 events that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. On his last Fourth of July as president, in 2008, Bush became the fourth president to visit Jefferson's home at Monticello, Va., where he presided over naturalization ceremonies.
Obama, swearing in immigrant service members in 2012, called it "a perfect way to celebrate America's birthday - the world's oldest democracy, with some of our newest citizens."
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