WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump celebrated the story of America as "the greatest political journey in human history" in a Fourth of July commemoration before a soggy but cheering crowd of spectators, many of them invited, on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Supporters welcomed his tribute to the U.S. military while protesters assailed him for putting himself center stage on a holiday devoted to unity.
As rain fell on him, Trump called on Americans to "stay true to our cause" during a program that adhered to patriotic themes and hailed a mix of history's heroes, from the armed forces, space, civil rights and other endeavors of American life.
A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital's Independence Day crowds, and Trump's speech unfolded in occasional rain. The warplanes and presidential aircraft he had summoned conducted their flyovers as planned, capped by the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team.
By adding his own one-hour "Salute to America" production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands of people, Trump became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on the Fourth of July.
Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate — a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool. It's where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech, Barack Obama and Trump hosted inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.
Not since 1951, when President Harry Truman spoke before a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds to mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has a commander in chief made an Independence Day speech to a sizable crowd on the Mall.
Washington has hosted an Independence Day celebration for decades, featuring a parade along Constitution Avenue, a concert on the Capitol lawn with music by the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks beginning at dusk near the Washington Monument.
Trump altered the lineup by adding his speech, moving the fireworks closer to the Lincoln Memorial and bringing tanks and warplanes.
Trump paid tribute to the reason for the holiday: the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
"With a single sheet of parchment and 56 signatures," Trump said, "America began the greatest political journey in human history."