Thursday, July 02, 2009

America's Great Anniversary Festival

Our Independence Day celebrations have thrilled me since I was a child. On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
“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. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142 [original spelling and punctuation] as quoted at”
Adams turned out to be off by two days. Although the Continental Congress had formally (and narrowly) voted for independence from Britain on July 2, the actual wording of the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was not approved until July 4. Although annual formal celebrations of independence began the following year on July 4, 1777, it appears to have been nearly a century later that Congress officially designated July 4 as the Independence Day holiday (see Wikipedia article).

At the time Adams was writing his letter to his wife, many Americans openly feared the prospect of war with England. But, like Adams, many Americans were quite certain that they would triumph because their cause was just. The next five years were probably harsher than most had anticipated. American support for the revolution waxed and waned depending on how battles went. There were many times that the cause appeared to be lost.

It seems clear that without George Washington’s complete personal devotion to the revolution, the cause would have failed. As Lafayette was later to say of Washington, “He was the revolution.” In many respects this is true. He held the cause together by the sheer force of his personality and character and Americans responded. Various British and Hessian officers remarked that they were often amazed by these provincials that would defy kings, lose battles, and yet keep on fighting. One remarked that when he looked upon the Americans they seemed to be “a new breed of men.”

Although the British kept winning battles, they proved unwilling and/or unable to do what was necessary to win the war. On the other side of the Atlantic, the initial overwhelming enthusiasm for the war waned as it impoverished the treasury, impaired trade, and spawned new wars with France. After Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the English felt it was best to let the Americans go their own way, although, a formal treaty took nearly two more years to complete. Due to this and the subsequent adoption of the Constitution, we still celebrate Independence Day each July 4th.

My town has been hosting official Independence Day celebrations since its incorporation over half a century ago. Each year there is a sunrise flag raising ceremony, a community breakfast, a 5K run/walk, a children’s parade, a formal parade, an arts and crafts show, live entertainer performances, baseball games, a golf tournament, a volleyball tournament, a beauty pageant, a rodeo, a small fair, a Dutch oven cook-off, a car show, a concert, a scavenger hunt, and fireworks. It’s a pretty full day. (Actually, some of the events run during the days running up to the 4th.) It would be difficult to attend all of the various events.

Although the town’s population has grown during my lifetime, the community Independence Day celebration still has a very hometown feel to it. It’s a nice time to relax with neighbors and friends. I’m not sure that I see much in the way of “solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty,” but I think that Mr. Adams would find our community’s celebration otherwise quite in line with his 1776 forecast, were he to visit this year.

Here’s wishing you and yours a glorious 4th of July celebration.

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