Today, on this fourth day of July, we celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the founding of our Republic.
Historians will remind us that it’s July 2 that we should observe as Independence Day. It was on that day, in 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. Of course, the Declaration of Independence, primarily written by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, bears the date of July 4, and thus this is the day we observe as the founding of our nation.
John Adams famously wrote (keeping in mind he was referring to July 2), “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parades, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
Appropriately, right here in Butte, Montana, we have one of the best celebrations of Independence Day.
This, of course, is a highly subjective judgment and I’ll confess that I may not be qualified to make this assessment. On the other hand, in this nation, and at this time in our nation’s history, lack of knowledge or expertise doesn’t seem to disqualify anyone from making judgments and expressing opinions.
Nevertheless, we celebrate with parades and illuminations, and one way or another, Butte celebrates the day much as John Adams had in mind all those years ago in those heady days of 1776 when those upstarts in a rebellious Congress dared to thumb their noses at King George III.
The struggle for independence was a near thing, as the incompetence of volunteer militia again and again proved it was no match for the trained army of the world’s greatest power. On the other hand, the struggle also proved something even modern armies have learned, that rebellious forces can, eventually, wear down the will and resources of even a mighty power that has to maintain supply lines that cross great oceans.
So, what would presidents Adams and Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and following a long period of estrangement, reconciled through a long series of letters, and dying on the same day, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration, say about this Republic they launched?
Perhaps, if Jefferson were to take a long look at today’s divisive and impetuous leadership, he might refer back to a letter he wrote in 1797. “A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, return their government to its true principles.”
John Adams feared for those who would get too powerful. “Power,” he wrote, “must never be trusted without a check.” Another statement might resonate during our modern times, “Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws.” On another occasion he wrote, “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
On the subject of religious basis for what some might call evil acts, Jefferson wrote, “It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read.” Of course, he added, “By the same test the world must judge me.” Thomas Jefferson was that massive bundle of contradictions, a person who wrote eloquently on the evils of slavery, for example, yet remained a slave-owner to his last days.
Regarding a President’s continuing assault on news and journalists, and factions that advocate we should ignore scientific fact, Jefferson wrote, “We are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
We might also remember something that Jefferson wrote near the end of his life, “The equal rights of man and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”
Revolutionary words for modern times.