As the saying goes, “we all become our parents”, at least to some degree. Not sure who said it first, but it is one of those phrases that we all scoff at in youth, yet with time come to recognize as accurate. For me, it is the watching of 60 Minutes on a fair number of Sunday evenings. This week the interview of David McCullough, the author and narrator of so many great historical moments of American history, is what struck a chord. Granted, I am a huge history geek and have most of McCullough’s books sitting a few feet away from me as I type, but his discussion of the significance of the 4th of July was timely indeed.
As mentioned in the interview, it is the prophetic lines of a letter John Adams sent to his wife Abigail that has truly survived the test of time:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Granted he was off by a couple of days, the final copy of the Declaration of Independence was dated on the 4th, the vote was on the 2nd, but the spirit holds.
Adams, and all the Founders, took the ultimate risk: they committed high treason. They had everything to lose, for they were the “top 1%” of the era. Their lives, their families, their wealth. It was all on the line. Though we often hear the term “Founding Fathers” or “Founding Brothers”, make no mistake, their wifes and families were just as much involved and at risk. It is impossible to imagine Abigail Adams or Martha Washington not knowing what their husbands were up to during all those meetings in Philadelphia in 1776. Yet, in spite of the odds, they did it, they declared our independence. It was neither asked for nor granted. It was taken. No one had ever done such a thing…not to the British Empire.
Independence declared and ultimately won, the significance of early July does not end there. A true, unified nation was finally forged in the crucible of the American Civil War. Gettysburg is the one battle almost everyone has heard of, mostly thanks to Lincoln’s Address. It is a staple of the American educational journey…memorize it, recite it, study it, or at least endure it. Almost every child encounters it in school. The battle was fought from 1-3 July 1863…150 years ago. Never before or since has America suffered such loses in such a short period of time. It should not be forgotten amongst the celebrations of 4th of July. Not necessarily celebrated, but certainly not forgotten.
History is one of those things that some people love, some hate, and most tolerate. One can debate the relative “value” of history as a subject, an academic major, a course of study or a hobby, but it is something we need to be aware of, respect and appreciate. It shapes us and our world. These first few days of July are as good a time as any to take a moment and just reflect on what happened years ago. We owe it to them and ourselves to not forget where we came from and what gift we have truly been given.
It is pretty cool…200+ years on and we still celebrate our independence with parades, pomp, fireworks, games, solemn pageantry, from one end of the continent to the other. It has not been the smoothest journey realizing the vision, but we are getting there.