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Columnists

“We Need a Little 4th of July, Right This Very Minute”

The 4th July is par excellence the national holiday promoting unity and celebrating the values, traditions, and achievements and way of life of the United States and our fellow Americans. Not everyone identifies with the military dimensions of Veterans and Memorial Day, and there are no nationalistic dimensions to religious holidays here, unlike other countries. Thanksgiving comes close, but its celebration of America is more muted.

In the past few years, economic strains, lingering pandemic frustrations – and radically different perspectives on our most controversial president in history – have brought division in America to unprecedented levels, but by and large, we find ways of not letting those disagreements spill over onto the holiday table… or into the back yard.

For this year’s 4th of July, last week’s Supreme Court Decision will put that observation to the test, perhaps provoking bitterness about what the U.S. represents – or is becoming – and what is happening to the freedoms we usually celebrate on that day.

In the meantime let’s take a look at what has to date been a joyous occasion with a brief overview of 4th of July celebrations.

The date itself is a bit controversial as the vote by the Continental Congress to declare independence took place on July 2, 1776, while the text of the Declaration of Independence was adopted two days later – and all the signatures took another month or so to collect.

An amazing coincidence, however, served to validate the date that is now universal. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were the only people who signed the Declaration of Independence to later served as presidents, died on the same day: July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. And while James Monroe did not sign the Declaration, he was an important Founding Father of the United States who also was elected president – and he died on July 4, 1831.

Some people celebrated America’s Independence during the summer of 1776 by putting on mock funerals for King George III of England.

On a less macabre note, In Bristol, Rhode Island in 1777 thirteen gunshots were fired in to mark the anniversary, and the July 18, 1777 issue of The Virginia Gazette reported that in Philadelphia a celebration took place in a form that would become common across the country through the years – there was an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts, 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, and fireworks. The article also noted that ships were decked in red, white, and blue.

In 1781, the Massachusetts’ state legislature became the first to recognize July 4 as a state celebration and in 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees – in 1938 Congress made Independence Day a paid federal holiday for all.

For families and neighbors picnics and barbecues became the norm, but the activity that is most associated with the celebration across the nation is fireworks displays.

I will end on a political yet optimistic note. Notwithstanding the heat that is generated in excess of light – the opposite of the case with our beloved 4th of July fireworks – by political issues, Americans are not as sharply divided as seems to be the case. The flames of division often arise only after being stoked by politicians – or at least, the extremists among Democrats and Republicans. For example, it appears only 10 percent of the people on the left and right want ‘abortion on demand’ or a complete ban, respectively. Most Americans are pleased that President Joe Biden succeeded in passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and gun control legislation that most Americans have been awaiting for decades. Most also agreed with the balanced and science-driven approach to fighting COVID of both the Trump and the Biden administrations – some of Trump’s personal statements notwithstanding.

Perhaps that is the strongest evidence that as a country we will find our way beck to vigorous – but not vicious or violent political discourse – which was the vision of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, 1776.

 

 

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