"The second day of July, 1776, 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 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 forever more"
John Adams in a letter to his wife, 03 July 1776.
What? July second? Was Adam off his rocker?
Well, no. At least not on this count.
On 02 July 1776, Congress voted to adopt a resolution of independence from Great Britain. Adams considered this the day of most importance for the activities related to eventual official separation because of that vote, but 04 July became commonly adopted by the citizenry because it was on this date that the declaration of independence (the document) was approved. Further proof that 'if it ain't written down, it didn't happen.' Though, of course, there are probably records of the vote occurring on 02 July 1776 that are buried someplace in the archives.
The date, of course, doesn't matter as much as the material notion that 236 years ago a group of gentlemen (some would debate whether that was true of all representatives of the second Continental Congress) got good and fed up with being pushed around by what they largely considered to be a foreign government and decided to take the radical step of declaring they were prepared to secede from that government and form their own. It was not an easy thing to think about, discuss, debate, or vote on. Many in that Congress did not want to dissolve ties with the motherland, while other more radical thinkers were more than prepared to take that bold leap in order to self-govern. On 02 July 1776, 12 men voted unanimously in favor of the resolution, with New York abstaining.
Twelve people is all that it took to start a process of independence. Their constituents must have been sorely divided on the issue, and deeply concerned with how their lives would be affected by this declaration. Many of them identified strongly with England; the discussions must have been long and passionate. The process of becoming a new country took a long time and carried tremendous cost, physically, fiscally, and ideologically.
Now, 236 years later, what can we say we've done with this passion, this hard-won freedom, this fought-for self-governance? In many ways the United States is the best country in Earth and I'm proud to be a citizen and patriot for the ideals we believe we stand for, but I am concerned about the future of that greatness. It's likely you are too, no matter what side of the political aisle you stand on. It seems that a spirit of centrism and agreement through debate and diplomacy are frowned upon, with the ends pulling further and further apart until the middle is stretched too thin to hold the unit together. What happens then? Where has the 'United' in the United States gone? Even when we disagree with another point of view, is it too late to see that disagreement must lead to resolution that is acceptable not only to both parties but to the people? It it too late to imagine that 'rule by bludgeon' seems to be on the cusp of reality and that there is so much disaffection in this country that we are becoming 2 distinct countries with very different goals and ideals?
Obviously I'm not the first, greatest, or deepest thinker on this subject, but on the Fourth of July I do like to spend some time dwelling on what the US was, and where it's going. I'm proud to be an American, yes, as most of us who are American would say, and I would never disavow my allegiance to this country, but I wonder if we will ever again be truly great if we continue to pull and pull at the two ends of the political rope until the middle frays and splits. It's a difficult thing to patch a frayed rope, and it's never the same thing it once was.
It's a shame that being viewed as a consensus maker is now as being a bad thing. It's a shame that a person who is entrusted with engaging in the political process who reaches toward the middle to strengthen agreement with both sides is viewed as weak or lacking in fortitude for their party. It's a shame that respectful disagreement and well-thought-out debate on difficult matters is a disappearing art form, with slander and vitriol taking their place. It's a shame that it seems a fairly large proportion of the people who represent us in the halls of our government would not be viewed as 'gentlefolk' in deeds or method of communication. The difficult acts are hidden behind closed doors, it appears, with the sideshows taking center stage, and it's worrisome. It's tabloid government, splashy, and in appearance of very little substance.
It would be easy to throw up our hands and quit being concerned. It's easy to just give up and let the big boys in politics tell us what to do. But that's not what those 12 men did 236 years and 2 days ago. They didn't just walk away from a tough issue, they dug in and fought for what they believed they could achieve - independence, self-government, and a shared set of ideals. I thank them for it and am hopeful that we can move back toward true greatness in our government, people, and world stature.
A call for revolution? Perhaps, if by revolution we're talking about 'turning around' and seeing what it is we're doing right and what we can fix about where we've wound up. A touch of national introspection wouldn't do us any harm. Maybe July 4th is the best day to do it.
Love you, USA, the best of luck to all of us as we continue lurching forward, hopefully toward real and lasting greatness.