Being the celebratory week of American independence, I wanted to provide a history lesson to clear up some apparent confusion or misunderstandings about the point of this week. A stroll through FaceBook or Twitter makes it abundantly clear that most Americans have forgotten since U.S. history class.
What 4th of July is Not
The Fourth of July is not about honoring our fallen soldiers “who fought and died for our freedom,” as I so often have seen this week on FaceBook. Certainly, we should honor those brave men and women every day, but specifically, the United States chose Memorial Day to celebrate and honor service members. It is always the final Monday of the month of May. Memorial Day is now a federal holiday, but observance of Memorial Day actually began after the Civil War, in honor of the soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy. Originally, it was called Decoration Day. In fact, “decoration” in the South is a relic of the Civil War era that is still celebrated by families during May and June, at family cemeteries and churches, to honor deceased family members. Memorial Day did not become a federal holiday until 1962.
Independence Day is not about the U.S. Constitution. Most people remember that the American Revolutionary War began in 1776 — WRONG! It actually began in 1775, before the the vote and Declaration of Independence. Few people recall or realize that after the Revolution, what would become the United States was a ragged and loose confederation of the colonies – all independent governments with only a veil of a very weak concept of federal government known as the Continental Congress. The Constitutional Convention was convened, and on September 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the states. We celebrate September 17 as Constitution Day. The Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution) came later. Congress adopted the Bill of Rights in 1789, and on December 15, 1791 – fifteen years after the Declaration of Independence – the Bill of Rights was ratified by the States and became effective. December 15 is now Bill of Rights Day.
Labor Day has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. patriotism but is instead a day to honor workers. It became a federal holiday in 1894.
If I have to explain why the Fourth of July is neither about turkey, pilgrims, Christmas trees, or Santa, you really should schedule a consult with me asap!
What is the Fourth of July?
As you’ve probably surmised, if you didn’t already know, the Fourth of July is about freedom or independence. On July 2, 1776, after years of growing animosity between the colonists and the British monarchy, not to mention a year of war, the Continental Congress, consisting of representatives from each of the colonies, made an official vote to become independent from Great Britain. That was the day that freedom began in the U.S.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Truly, it was the beginning of the civil rights movement, which continues even today as we struggle to understand the bounds between government and individual free will and how to define life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, including, who should be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and whether some people should be entitled to more life, liberty, and happiness than others.
On July 4, 1776, two days after the vote, the Declaration of Independence was signed, though some scholars believe that all signatures had not been procured until August 2, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was a formal statement to explain why freedom from Great Britain was necessary and to declare the birth of the United States. And a statement it made! Check out the grievances against the monarchy that were part of the Declaration of Independence. Though some of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence thought July 2 would become the commemorative day, the document was not available to the public until July 4, and so, we celebrate on July 4th.
CELEBRATE WHAT FREEDOM MEANS TO YOU
Despite my ramblings about what the Fourth of July is not, the beauty of freedom is that we each get to decide how we celebrate our patriotism and gratitude for living in a country where we need not fear government oppression for expressing our views – compare North Korea, where Kim Jong-Il dictates how citizens celebrate the government.
The cynical among you may disagree, especially when we consider the incredibly polarized political culture of our times that creates gridlock in the U.S. Congress and what some would say is an emerging police state of constant surveillance. No doubt, these are all things we should be concerned about. However, the fact that we have a solid system of checks and balances to prevent tyranny and that we have venues to air our grievances, without fear of retribution, gives us a chance to make positive change so that our ancestors’ demand for freedom is never silenced.
For me, July 4th is about hope. Just as the founding fathers hoped for better times and took a bold step forward with a Declaration of Independence, I hope that we can come together and take united, decisive action to bring forward a day when all of us are equal under the law – freedom for all, not just those with the strongest political influence.
So, whether your way of celebrating the birth of our nation and independence is focused on service members, an appreciation for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or chowing down on hot dogs and fireworks, celebrate something – BECAUSE YOU ARE FREE TO DO SO!