Independence Day, so what?
today at 10:01 am
What does the 4th of July really celebrate?
Yeah, sure, it’s the anniversary of the moment a bunch of colonists declared their independence from the tyranny of England. But it’s an American holiday, a point of pride for Americans and how consequential is it really for the rest of the world?
As a kid, it means parades, carnivals, hot dogs, wearing red-white-and-blue outfits. As an adult, it is a reminder that once upon a time, a group of individuals believed they had a right to self-determination, no taxation without representation, and that government needed to be of, by and for the governed.
Lots of pundits have held forth on whether or not America has ever lived up to the promise of our Founding Fathers. Often, particularly of late, the conversation has devolved into whether or not those promises were ever worthy of celebration, much less reverence.
Both sides miss the point, something that was brought home to me recently by a 96-year old WWII veteran who fought in Bastogne. This man, old but anything but frail, gave a speech that was part personal history and part history lesson. He was dressed in a reproduction of the uniform he and his brothers-in-arms wore as they held out for five days, surrounded and outnumbered five-to-one, in a crucial battle for the freedom of the world in December, 1944. After those experiences, he returned to his home in the Bronx, went to college and became a high school history teacher. Because of what he experienced. Perhaps more importantly, because of the why of what he experienced.
His was more than service to his country. It was in service to an idea that has lit the imagination of the world since 1776. On that July 4th 245 years ago, Jefferson, Adams and a host of names less well known to history did more than craft a framework for the future of the American colonies. They drew a line in the sands of time.
They declared themselves and their fellow colonists unique in all the world. Because every other human on the planet at that moment lived under the rule of autocracy. Some may have been subject to benevolent dictatorships, monarchies or aristocracies, but they were subjects. None could be the architects of their own lives.
On July 4th, 1776, every other human on the planet lived under a dictatorship of one sort or another.
That one sentence, shared by a man who lived through some of the most consequential events of the last century may be the most succinct and profound descriptor of why Independence Day matters to the world.
This is the dream our Founding Fathers dared to dream. They laid the framework by which an individual could live according to their conscious, worship how, where and when they chose, speak their heart, gather at will and define their own lives. They then pledged their lives and the lives of their families in the fight to make this dream reality. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, five were captured, tortured and killed by the British. Another nine died fighting. Two lost their sons and another two saw their son’s captured. Yet, they signed this document, this dream, knowing full well they may not live to see the fruition of that reality. In short, they gave that dream to the world.
The United States of America is still the shining city on the hill that welcomes a million people every year yearning to live the American dream, far more than any other country on the planet. Today, we say that America is not as starkly unique as other countries have come to embrace representative-style governments. Yet, America is still the prize, the most sought-after gold ring.
This is what we celebrate on the 4th of July. The dream that is America. Every generation is required to wake up and continue the work that makes that dream reality. Independence Day is a celebration of what was bequeathed to us, and to the world. It is also a reminder that just as the pretty pyrotechnics in the sky are a brief flash in contrast to the norm, this dream is but a moment of brightness against the darkness of tyranny and oppression that still blankets much of the world.
On July 4th, 1776, every other human on the planet lived under a dictatorship of one sort of the other. That is what we celebrate and remember, with gratitude and awe.
Happy Independence Day, America.
Speaking of uniquely American, click here for a version of the Star Spangled Banner rendered by the guys at Black Rifle Coffee Company (“trigger” warning, literally. If you are traumatized by scary black rifles, don’t click the link). While you’re at it, support a veteran-owned and run business and get yourself some really good coffee and really cool gear. https://www.blackriflecoffee.com/
4th of July