Though many people are no doubt ecstatic that the nation is celebrating Independence Day as part of an extended holiday weekend, the real truth is that a single day would be sufficient. That’s all that is necessary to commemorate the significance of the events 235 years ago.
There’s no need, in fact, for such reflection to take up a whole day or to hinder the myriad individual, family and communal festivities and fireworks that are integral to contemporary celebrations of the nation’s birthday. All that is really needed is a meaningful pause to reflect on the events that created the legal foundation of this great nation. The understanding that reflection can bring ties us all to earlier generations of Americans and to their observances of the July Fourth holiday.
Celebrations of the “Glorious Fourth” are as old as the nation itself. They are as varied as the people and traditions that make up the nation, and they continue to evolve as the nation’s embrace encompasses more and more people from different places and backgrounds. There is a certain commonality to the celebrations, though, regardless of the individuals or institutions that hold them.
Speeches, particularly of the political and patriotic kind, are a staple of the day. So are parades, picnics and leisure activities of all sorts. Many people spend the day with family and friends, but others happily congregate with thousands or tens of thousands of others to share the fellowship engendered by the most seminal of U.S. holidays.
Most celebrations, especially the large ones, are marked by fireworks, a tradition as old as the holiday itself. John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence and second president of the United States, said it would be that way.
Before the declaration was signed, he wrote that the day the United States declared independence would be remembered with celebrations “and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time and forever more.” Every bursting shell and every sparkler today and tonight is testimony to his prescience and to the nation’s continuing vitality.
Though this Fourth of July finds the nation struggling with seemingly intractable economic problems, an ongoing war, counterproductive political partisanship and debates over truculent issues such as equitable taxation, immigration, health care, jobs and many complex social issues, the truth is that the United States remains, in the most important sense of the word, united.
Citizens of noisily different viewpoints promote their causes and engage in vigorous political partisanship, but they do so under the sheltering umbrella of a democracy that allows and encourages such activity. There is, despite the differences among us, a strong unanimity of purpose and an embrace of freedom and equality that are distinctly American and the envy of the world.
There is no best way to commemorate U.S. independence. We would do well, in fact, to give thanks for it each day. Still, our July Fourth celebrations are — as they should be — heartfelt and highly visible expressions of delight and gratitude for living in a land where the rule of law and respect for individual liberty generally are pre-eminent.