How did John Adams know?
On July 3, 1776, the future president and then member of the Continental Congress wrote his wife about his work on the Declaration of Independence.
He was bubbling with optimism.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” Adams wrote. “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, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
It’s remarkable, considering what was at stake for the founding fathers.
Benjamin Franklin’s observations might have been more appropriate at the time:
“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,” he said during the signing of the Declaration one day later.
So here we are, nearly 250 years later, embarking on our annual ritual of hot dogs, hamburgers, family barbecues and fireworks in a festival that is truly and uniquely American.
Yet, the hot dog and hamburger have their roots in German culture, although we believe Americans have perfected them. “Barbecue” comes from the Spanish word “barbacoa” and first originated in the Caribbean, where indigenous Haitians were observed roasting meat over an outdoor grill. And of course, it was the Chinese who first used fireworks, way back in the 9th century.
It turns out that the only truly American part of the Fourth of July is the ideal that it celebrates.
It’s hard to imagine John Adams being so optimistic on July 3, 1776, when what he was doing was technically treason against the crown and could lead to his execution.
The founders knew then they just wanted to be free.
What that would look like was still to be crafted, and the fact that it has lasted is quite remarkable.
In 1776, a revolutionary war still needed to be fought and a constitution hammered out.
It would be 15 years before the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution. It is at the center of who we are and what makes us a beacon for the rest of the world.
In a few lines, James Madison captured the vision of America that continues to this day.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
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These words are the Holy Grail for Americans.
Today is really not about parades, fireworks and barbecues, but our ability to come together to celebrate as a family of Americans.
On the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson added some perspective.
“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man,” Jefferson wrote as the anniversary neared. “For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
It’s that right to be free that we are celebrating, and that we take for granted.
On this Fourth of July, we are once again facing trying times as a people and a democracy. The threat is, sadly, from within.
We need to remember that nothing is guaranteed.
That we always need to be vigilant of our democracy and freedoms.
We need to covet them jealously and strive to be better citizens.
And we need to remember there is only one America.
“Truth, justice and the American way.”
Remember those words.
That is our credo, isn’t it?
While checking where those powerful words came from, we were startled to learn its origination was not from one of the founding fathers or great statesmen. It came from a 1942 radio show that had adapted the “Adventures of Superman” comic book. It was also later used in the 1950s “Superman” television show.
“Truth, justice and the American way,” came from a comic book, and yet it is so profound.
Sadly, it may take Superman to bring us together again.