“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.” ~ Samuel Adams
Somewhere along the way we stopped calling our most popular summer holiday “Independence Day” and went simply with “The Fourth of July”. We love our Red, White and Blue, but this is the day we pull out all the stops. Flags fly everywhere, the stars and stripes adorning everything from porches to paper plates to Uncle Sam hats to the holiday advertising pages of every newspaper. Flags dress floats and bicycles and baby carriages in every parade in every little town in America.
We love this day–the day to remember our liberty, our exceptionalism, our prosperity. Those were the days, weren’t they?
So what happened?
Not to be a downer on our very favorite day of the year, but I can’t shake the feeling that “independence” is one of those words we’re starting to look back on with nostalgia. Does anyone even care that we’re not independent anymore?
Our dependence on foreign oil and on anti-American big business and on the production and importation of goods from dubious nations across the globe is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they declared us an independent country and gave us our working papers.
It started on July 4, 1776 when 56 men signed a paper declaring a dissolution of the 13 united states of America from England, the mother state. Eleven years later, in 1787, a constitution, the wording hard-fought and brainstormed to death, became the law of the land. The signers mulled over the first paragraph, realizing, I’m sure, that it needed some oomph if people were actually going to understand the motives behind it.
They didn’t start off with, “WE, the wealthy landowners, in order to keep our fiefdoms going. . .”, or “WE, the 39 undersigned, in order to preserve our station and ensure a healthy profit margin. . . “.
No, they began it like this:
WE, the people. . .of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America
It all came out of a yearning for independence so strong an entire country was created, and in the course of a couple of centuries we became a model for democracy throughout the world–a force to be reckoned with. You couldn’t find a prouder nation anywhere. We were going places.
That was then.
Today, we’re in turmoil. It’s as if the promises made, the lessons learned, the reasons to form a more perfect union are long gone and long forgotten. We are as divided as we’ve ever been since the days of our Civil War, 150 years ago. We cannot, it seems, find common ground. We see our America through different eyes, with different fears and different goals. We don’t like what we see, but from entirely different angles and for entirely different reasons. We try to interpret what our Founding Fathers had in mind for us, but we come at it with our own biases, our own prejudices, trying to mold our purposely vague constitution to fit our own wants and needs.
But on this one day we come together, and it’s our love of this beautiful, challenging, imperfect country that brings us to detente. It’s a day when, no matter what’s going on outside, the sun is warm, the breeze is balmy, and the shade of the old oak tree brings a delicious coolness. A lemonade day. A day for feeling good. The parade is about to start and there is no more beautiful flag in the world than the American flag.
Tomorrow we’ll begin again. Toward a more perfect union. Toward more than just a day of domestic tranquility. Toward an independence we, the people, have promised to preserve.
(Note: If some of this looks familiar, it’s because it’s an adaptation of my Independence Day post from 2010. Be well and be kind on this day that is ours and ours alone.)