July 3rd, 2007 06:33 AM
Celebrating America, and history's lessons
Editorial in my hometown rag. Note gun quote by John Adams, in bold.
Celebrating America, and history's lessons
© July 3, 2007
ON JULY FOURTH each year, America celebrates its independence from British rule. The freedom that we honor wasn't won on that date in 1776, of course; it was barely begun. True liberty arrived years later, thanks only to the sacrifices of men from each of the 13 colonies, banded together under a common cause against a common foe.
That unity was no accident, and it didn't come quickly.
"Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions...."
Those are the words of John Adams, to his wife, Abigail, in a letter written on July 3, 1776. A vigorous debate over the wisdom of independence had raged for months and years in the colonies, and in the end a consensus had been forged.
Writing hours before the fighting began, Adams jutted out his chin, and did what great Americans always do: He embraced that debate - which had often been vicious - as evidence of the freedom to which the young nation aspired. Then he moved forward.
Two hundred thirty-one years later, modern American politics seems mired in name-calling and demonization. There's an enormous philosophical divide separating Americans, but it's nothing new. It would've been entirely familiar to Adams, even if the rage over matters so slight would've seemed silly.
Today is nothing compared with 1776, when families turned against each other with the passion of righteousness, when towns were rent by allegiances to Philadelphia, or to London. When Americans died for a philosophical disagreement.
Despite that, patriots like Adams knew that the dispute and debate had made something surer out of 13 contentious colonies. With the outcome of the war nowhere near certain, and with the ragtag Americans no match for the might of the British military, Adams' faith in the character of the union let him see the future of Independence Day, or at least pretend he did.
"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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
If only forever more had included today.
If vitriol marks the national mood, it should be no surprise, given the dominant political voices without and within. Political stock on TV and radio is purchased with hate speech, but it is nothing to what the rest of the world says about us.
More than sometimes the world sees America as the enemy - of what, we can't guess. They hate what we stand for, and even who we are. Some Americans revel in that rebirth as an international pariah, as if it proves them politically right.
As a nation, America has lost a bit of its swagger, but only because we allow ourselves to believe that the rest of the world has a point about our conduct. If we're being honest, it might.
But they have no point about American character. Our national motives are imbedded in the day we celebrate tomorrow and in the hundreds of years America has been an advocate for freedom and liberty in the world. No politician or administration can diminish that.
As desperate as these days sometime seem, as many missteps as we've watched in the past decade or three, it's helpful to recognize that any one is only the latest crisis in America's never-ending string of them. In the arc of history, these are just dots, just moments.
As an American, ask yourself this on this Independence Day: Do you honestly believe that the stakes are higher now than they were 231 years ago, that they are higher for President Bush or Clinton or Reagan than they were when John Adams concluded with these hopeful lines on July 3, 1776?
"You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
Amen, Mr. Adams. Amen.
"Each worker carried his sword strapped to his side." Nehemiah 4:18
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July 3rd, 2007 09:31 AM
Couldn't have said it better myself.
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