But what makes this day special?
What gives the Fourth of July its significance is that our Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1776.
It was in Philadelphia, and the signers of that document, composed by Thomas Jefferson, knew that this declaration of independence from the dictatorial rule of Great Britain might also be — literally — their death sentence.
They knew full well that the wrath and might of the British army would be sailing across the Atlantic to descend on the relatively defenseless colonies. They knew their scattered “states” didn’t have the numbers or arms or training to stand against the British, much less defeat them militarily. Yet they put their signatures, and their lives, their families, their destiny, on that parchment.
And so, against all odds, and even against reason, that Declaration told the world that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
The only importance of the 4th day of July, then, is that it marks the birth of the United States of America.
The very words should send awe-filled shivers up your spine, as they do mine.
Most of the people living in those colonies had simply had enough of British domination, of working and virtually existing at the pleasure of a king they didn’t know and who obviously considered them his indentured servants.
They wanted to be free, to make their own decisions, to govern themselves and breathe the sweet air of liberty.
The first celebration of American Independence took place four days later in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was still meeting.
The ceremony began with a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Then, from the tower of the State House, now called Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell rang out.
The coat of arms of the king of England was taken down. And there was a parade. And cannons boomed. The people, though aware of what lay ahead, cheered! A new nation sprang to life.
That’s what this day is meant to be about.
John Adams, himself a signer of the Declaration, thought that Americans should henceforth celebrate a “great anniversary festival.” In a letter to his wife Abigail he 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, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
So it began. A more elaborate celebration was held there in 1788, after the new Constitution had been ratified. Then there was a much larger parade, speeches and a dinner.
But between those two celebrations, in 1776 and 1788, there was much horrible fighting, rivers of bloodshed, the deaths and bankruptcies of many of the signers of the Declaration, families torn apart and businesses and farms destroyed. The freedoms declared by the Declaration — and ushered into fact by the Constitution — were secured at a terrible cost.
Soon, across the growing nation, at sunrise on July 4, salutes were fired and bells were rung. Flags were flown from buildings, from homes, and along the streets. Shop windows were decorated with red, white, and blue. Churches held special services.
What’s Independence Day like today? Do most people you know actually make time to purposely celebrate our independence in meaningful ways?
Even while we’re again locked in a deadly combat on foreign soil — still involving hundreds of thousands of our finest young men and women?
What are they fighting for now? Is it anything like what motivated our Revolutionary Army?
Is it “freedom from religion,” the necessity to take “under God” out of our pledge, or even to do away with it altogether? Is it the “right” to end the lives of unwanted babies, or the “right” for two men or two women to “marry”?
Or is it still the impossible dream of a nation under God, with unalienable rights endowed equally to all — among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Surely this weekend is a time for all of us who really cherish that original dream, the one for which so many have died, to individually and collectively re-declare our independence from tyranny, despotism, taxation without representation, and debts that no free society should ever bear.
And allegiance to the blood-bought foundation of government of, by, and for the people . . . people who are determined to live free.