American Independence: The Second of July
Towards the end of each calendar year we have a wonderful set of time nebulously referred to as “the holidays.” For most people it begins with Thanksgiving and concludes on New Year’s Day. Of course the center-piece is Christmas and everything that holy day entails.
In the summer we should emphasize a similar “holiday season.” I propose that it begin with Juneteenth, newly recognized as a federal holiday that celebrates the freeing of slaves in Texas following the Civil War, and continues through Pioneer Day, a state holiday in Utah celebrating the entry of the full vanguard company of Mormon settlers to the Salt Lake Valley.
Of course the center-piece is Independence Day, which I personally choose to celebrate on the Second of July. Yes, I believe that Independence day is properly celebrated on the Second of July rather than the Fourth.
The full story of the Second Continental Congress that declared independence from Great Britain is fascinating. The short story is that the vote to declare independence occurred on the 2nd of July, 1776 with the document declaring that independence being approved on the 4th of July, 1776.
John Adams (my personal founding father spirit animal*) was a Massachusetts delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He was a principal leader in the cause of independency and one of the most influential members of that congress. He went on to have a distinguished career as a diplomat in Europe and served as the first Vice President and second President of the United States.
During the monumental decisions for Independence in the summer of 1776 John Adams was as busy as anyone else, but still kept up on his personal correspondence. On the 3rd of July, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, his “dearest friend” and partner throughout his career of public service. Not knowing that his achievements would be later upstaged by Thomas Jefferson (and not for the last time), with his classic bold confidence John wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
In describing our summer celebrations I’m not sure if John Adams was being prophetic or instructive, but I do believe he has provided a pattern for our activities. Sometimes I even think of it as a checklist. Looking back his description has the wrong date, but in the contrarian Adams style, I choose to celebrate on the second. It is the least I can do to honor the Founding Father who posterity has honored by placing his image on the 20 cent coin and the 25 dollar bill, neither of which exist.
Of course the specific day is not as important as the celebration itself. If the celebrations spill out into other days, all the better for there is much to celebrate during the first week of July and the weeks preceding and following it. A single day is not enough to honor American Independence.
We spend these days with breakfasts and barbecues, parades and shows, games and sport, sounds and illuminations, and of course our devotions to Almighty God. These are important acts of celebration, but they should move us to remembrance and action. Let us remember the brave patriots who made this day a possibility. Let us recommit our lives to the best that self-governance has to offer. Let us remember that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed and should use that power in securing our God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We have inherited a great but imperfect legacy from the Americans who have gone on before. We should make the improvements we can during our time, then pass along an improved, but still imperfect legacy to the generations that follow. Hopefully they can be even wiser and pass along an improved legacy in their time as Americans strive towards that elusive more perfect union.
Happy Independence Day to everyone on the 2nd, and we’ll keep the party going through the 4th.
*A presenter once introduced a quote from Thomas Jefferson referring to him as "my Founding Father spirit animal." I found that to be an odd idea, but the more I reflected on it, It grew on me. The line "Founding Father spirit animal" was the high point of his talk, and yes that tells you something about the rest of it which were easily debunked conspiracies of voter fraud.