A day before signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “[Independence Day] 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 solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other.”
In one of history’s most extraordinary synchronicities, exactly 50 years later on the night of July 4th, 1826, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson would die within hours of each other, further cementing the importance of Independence Day in the nation’s psyche.
It might seem that there is little cause for celebration today in our divided and ailing nation, and not many have felt festive and jubilant about our national life for the past few years. But it is at times like these that the Fourth is most important, as a powerful warning and reminder. A reminder of how historically unique and precious our great, ongoing experiment in self-determination and individual freedom really is, and of how much we have to lose.
Time and again since the dawn of our national history, we have been warned not to take our system for granted and to renew our commitment to freedom. On the very anniversary that we will celebrate this week, great statesmen of times past and leaders of all stripes enjoined us time and again to hold our liberty dear and remember the lessons of our past.
On July 4th 1802, when the nation was only twenty-six years old and the speaker even younger, the great orator Daniel Webster admonished his fellow citizens, “To preserve the government we must also preserve a correct and energetic tone of morals. After all that can be said, the truth is that liberty consists more in the habits of the people than anything else… Amidst these profuse blessings of nature and Providence, beware! Standing in this place, sacred to truth, I dare not undertake to assure you that your liberties and your happiness may not be lost… you have everything to lose; you have nothing to gain.”
On Independence Day of 1946, then-candidate for the Senate, John F Kennedy, reminded us of the essential religious values underpinning our nation, of the idealism that had always characterized us in the past, and of the belief in individual liberty and rights we had always cherished. He echoed past warnings when he said, “We cannot assume that the struggle is ended. It is never-ending. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
The time is ripe for another reminder. Today more than ever, we need to remember who we are, the principles our country was founded on, and the urgent need to hold fast to the cause of liberty.
So, this year, we have more reason than ever to celebrate. Not to dwell on the dark chapters of history, but to honor our nation at its best, its most glorious moments, the America we are duty-bound to preserve and fight for in our small way. To show that national pride is not a dirty word, nor is it incompatible with acceptance and even admiration of other cultures. In short, now more than ever, we need to come together with our friends and family, set strident politics and social media chatter aside, and have a great Fourth of July.
We couldn’t say it any better than another great American, Ronald Reagan did on Independence Day of 1986: “My fellow Americans, we are known around the world as a confident and a happy people. Tonight, there’s much to celebrate and many blessings to be grateful for. So, while it’s good to talk about serious things, it’s just as important and just as American to have some fun.”
As Americans from coast to coast gather to celebrate our independence, let us take the time to appreciate our great freedoms, to remember, and to hope.
Happy Fourth of July from CCDF-USA’s family to yours!