By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Did you have a nice day yesterday? It was the 4th of July hereabouts, a day sacred to beach going, music in the park and, of course, fireworks, Boston’s being always notable.
It is also a day celebrating the nation, my nation, the United States of America. Yet the vast majority of my fellow citizens will have enjoyed the day without stopping, even for an instant, to consider what the day is truly about… and why we forget it at our peril.
Dudes with powdered hair.
On this date (July 5) back in 1776, the great document called the Declaration of Independence was riding in the saddlebags of people anxious to spread its momentous news to all the people of what was fast changing from a gaggle of squabbling colonies to a nation of revolutionaries.
First of all, you must realize that the events of those heady days were dangerous, extremely dangerous.
The great problem of history is that we know how things turned out. Thus we have the tendency to treat events that were by no means inevitable as if they were. Nowhere is this more true than with the days when our ancestors forged a great nation. Because they won we think their winning had to occur; that it was inevitable, certain, a piece of cake.
In fact it was anything but.
Let us be very plain with each other: conceiving, writing, printing, posting, disseminating the Declaration of Independence, all these were deeds of treachery. Each of these activities was designed to diminish, denigrate and degrade the crown of England, to which each one singly and all collectively had sworn an oath of loyalty, fidelity and commitment.
His Most Gracious Majesty King George III and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men took a very dim view of what the colonists across the pond were up to and about. And on July 4th these self-same colonists took the ultimate step… for they passed from being protestors within the system… to be declared traitors without. In so doing they put their heads into the noose. Had the British caught these fellows they would lose their property, their freedom, and their lives.
Revolutions, you see, are a very serious business…. and no one knew this better than the royal Hanoverian dynasty of George III; he got the crown, after all, as a result of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. He knew what revolutions could deliver… but also how nervous and undependable they made people who could so easily become gallows fodder. Oh, yes, revolutions were a very dicey business indeed.
Thus did the gentlemen in Congress assembled tread warily up to moment they signed, with whatever secret misgivings. As they put quill pen to paper, they were signing what could be their own death warrant… and at such a moment of moments may a man wonder… and the spouse of his body sit up and cry aloud in the dark hours of the night, praying to God Almighty for succor, guidance, and mercy.
The revolutionary landscape was confusing. There were Loyalists; there were Revolutionaries. Then there were the people who did the best they could as events broke around them. Winning over these people, the great majority of the people, was always a major objective of both sides. Bit by bit, this great majority became committed to the goals of the Revolution, clearly outlined in the ringing prose of the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The British lost the Revolutionary War because they could not match what the Revolution offered, much less better it. And so, mind by mind and heart by heart the Revolution from being unthinkable became unstoppable.
The Revolution, the great religion of America.
As the Revolution developed, grew strong, and gathered momentum, the realization became overwhelming that these one-time colonials, now citizens, had succeeded in doing something no other people or nation had ever done: they had won complete political freedom. They owned themselves, the most precious and important gift of all. This was an event so significant, so earth-shattering, so gratifying and so thrilling that the people of America longed to gather at periodic intervals to remind each other about what had happened, why it happened, what each had done… and what all would do again, should it ever be necessary to put down the plough and take up the gun.
July 4th became sanctified as the great day of freedom! Liberty! Revolution! And the people demanded it be celebrated in high style to match the importance of the event, the goals of the Founding Fathers, and the soaring rhetoric they all knew. Each prophet of this Revolution all knew, too, and wished to honor again; special reverence was always paid to Jefferson, who gave the Revolutionaries the golden gift of heart-touching words… and to Washington, the man who had turned down the crown of America for the surer crown of his countryman’s respect, love and undying admiration.
Each place in America, no matter how small, competed to remember and to honor and so did the festivals of the Great Republic commence and grow… for the people, having wrenched America from the hands of tyrants, were determined to celebrate their great achievement and remind the entire world what it meant… and invite them to join the future.
Days before these festivals took place preparations would begin. A Liberty Tree would be festooned with the robust and venerated slogans of the Revolution. Old Continental Army uniforms would be taken from chests, to be tried on (and let out) . Larders were raided for ample picnics and still rooms for a variety of distillations and brews, essential for toasts. Wagons were packed; a few extra comforts added for Grandpapa who got his honored wound at Cowpens (1781)… and his wife whose prayers for his safe return had been answered. They were all going and joyfully.
And the same scene played all over America, for the 4th was the quintessential American festival… an event of the people,by the people, for the people, long before Lincoln used these immemorial words.
Whether the festivities were small or grand; whether addressed by a well regarded student with a future… or by one of the great orators of the day… didn’t matter. The republican verities were the stars of the event, stated, restated, the principles for which they had fought and which so much had been sacrificed.
And if, at the larger gatherings so many could not hear, even those practised orators with the greatest reach, that did not matter. For the people knew in their bones what was said, its impact, and importance. And they were satisfied to be there at all, each one so necessary for the whole.
Now all this is gone… remembered by few, practised by fewer. Who, then, can wonder at the state of America, when we ourselves have removed the means for understanding, celebrating and reverencing her? She needs these now more than ever.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is at http://homeprofitcoach.com/associates , providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.