After he signed the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, a letter predicting that this momentous event would be remembered and celebrated as a great festival for generations:
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.
|Photo by Dan Holm|
I’m sure Adams would be pleased to know we’ve taken his advice. We celebrate the 4th (not the 2nd, despite what Adams said) with picnics and pool parties and fireworks.
But, of course, Independence Day is about more than that. It’s about how a brave, audacious people stood up to the mightiest power of the age to claim their inalienable rights.
It’s easy to take the success of our democracy for granted. We forget how hard it is to make this form of government work. Democracy is about endless discussion and compromise. It’s about finding balance between public and private, state and federal, the state and the market, the needs of the individual and the needs of the many.
By its nature, our form of government is frustrating, tedious, and fragile. But, if the founding fathers (and mothers) had wanted it to be easy, they’d have given us a king instead of a constitution.
As Ben Franklin said, they gave us: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
We’ve kept it for 237 years so far. While we sing patriot songs and watch the rockets light the sky, we ought to commit ourselves to work together to protect our rights and our privileges, to find the balance, no matter how hard it may seem, and to ensure our laws and practices guarantee ALL a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, from this time forward and forever more.