What Do We Really Celebrate on the 4th of July?
If you’re like me or many other Americans, thoughts of a 4th of July weekend bring to mind grilled meats, ice cold beer, and parades. Maybe a lake or pool to take a dip in. Usually there’s a gathering of friends or family adorned in red, white, and/or blue.
Every 4th, I enjoy the festivities and don’t think much else of it. But this year, I started thinking about why we celebrate the 4th of July.
Granted, the last few years have made it more difficult to feel pride in our country. Divisions between people are bigger than ever and it’s hard to see a way out. The idea of kicking back, enjoying a day off of work, and not thinking too much about national pride is tempting.
I’m here to ask you not to do that. I want you to dig a little deeper, and I promise that I do have a good reason for it.
What’s the history again?
In 1775, gaining independence from Great Britain was not a popular opinion in the colonies. The few who favored it were seen as extremists who had radical views.
However, tides began to turn over the next year due to the distribution of pro-revolution works, like “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine.
By June of 1776, the Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, Richard Henry Lee, proposed complete independence from Great Britain and the congress decided to consider it.
“Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” — Richard Henry Lee
Votes were cast on July 2, and those in favor won. America decided to be free. The Declaration of Independence was drawn up, revised, and adopted two days later on the now-famous 4th of July.
After it was signed, the Declaration of Independence was distributed to the public by the printer John Dunlap. Fun fact: 26 of the original 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside Declaration of Independence still exist today. Most are in the possession of universities and historical societies.
But why the 4th?
The simple answer is that the date — July 4, 1776 — was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides that everyone saw. July 2nd was meaningless to those who were not present in the room for the vote.
The complicated answer is that in the whole of the Revolutionary War, it was the most important moment. Yes, signing the Treaty of Paris and ending the war on September 3rd was also an incredibly important time for America, but the signing of the Declaration of Independence is what the nation is founded on.
Without that specific moment, America would not be here. It was the moment that the choice was made: the choice to be free and to fight for what the people wanted.
In fact, John Adams foresaw the importance of that day back when it happened. He wrote to his wife, telling her how he believed that Americans would celebrate it for years to come (although he did predict that it would be July 2nd, instead of July 4th).
“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.” — John Adams
Notice how his descriptions of the celebrations sound an awful lot like celebrations of the 4th now? Almost 250 years ago Adams knew that it was an historic moment, and even mentioned parades and fireworks.
History is great, but why do I care?
On the 4th, while you’re sipping on a cold one or lighting a match to blow something up, take a minute to think about the fact that you’re celebrating your country.
You live in a land that is founded on freedom. A group of people came together to make a decision to improve their lives, and they fought for that freedom until it came true.
As another election cycle approaches in 2020, it’s more important than ever to remember that founding principle.
If you don’t like the way that things have been, now is your chance to make a difference. The foundation of this country gives you the right to do something about it.
You have the freedom to say “I don’t like this” and advocate for change. You have the freedom to take a stand and not turn a blind eye when people have their rights stripped away. You have the freedom to vote how you want and to make your voice heard.
In 1776 the people were not happy with the way things were, so they said enough is enough and they changed things. Now, it’s your turn.
So definitely celebrate. Celebrate the hell out of the 4th of July because this holiday commemorates the fact that we live in a land where we have the freedom to make a difference.
Happy 4th of July, and see you at the ballot box.