While we Americans wake on this day each year and look forward to hamburgers, hot dogs, beer, and fireworks in the night sky, we were also reminded earlier this week by William Kristol in a New York Times article to look back at the Declaration of Independence that is the source of our celebration. Turns out that Mr. Kristol now gathers each 4th of July with friends and they read it aloud. "It's a longer document than one thinks; the charges against the king take quite a while to get through," he writes.
To up the ante this year, he's going to add one text to the reading list: Thomas Jefferson's letter to Roger Weightman of June 24, 1826, explaining that ill health prevented him from traveling to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of American independence. As it turned out, that was the last letter Thomas Jefferson would write. Mr. Kristol points to a passage in that letter that perhaps ought to be as well known as the famous phrases from the Declaration.
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government.
I intend to put aside some time today to read aloud these two documents and re-acquaint myself with what we're truly celebrating. And then I'm going to fire up the grill and enjoy some burgers and beer.
Later this evening, we Americans will gather on the shores of the Charles River in Boston, near the presidential monuments in Washington, D.C., on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, and on town greens across the country and tilt our heads back and 'ooh' and 'ahh' as we stare into the sky watching the 'rockets red glare' re-enacted again and again.
Happy 4th of July to you all!
Declaration of Independence