On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. That day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, predicting that the day “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” and that it would be accompanied by “Pomp and Parade …Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” And so it has, though not on July 2. The Congress approved a final draft on July 4, and, over time, that date became fixed in our national consciousness as the day we choose to celebrate the birth of our Nation.
I think John Adams would be proud to know that we celebrate this day in many of the ways he predicted: with parades and picnics and fireworks from one end of the continent to the other. Thomas Jefferson had a slightly different take. In the last letter he ever wrote, graciously declining to attend a Fourth of July celebration in Washington on account of ailing health, he expressed hope that “the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of [the rights of man], and an undiminished devotion to them.” In other words, he hoped we would mark the day not only with pomp and celebration but with a remembrance and renewed commitment to the principles of liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
That’s my hope today, as we gather with friends and family for pancake breakfasts, and parades, frisbee on the grass, cool watermelon, fireworks on a blanket under the stars, and whatever other traditions help make this day special. Let’s be sure to make it not just all of those wonderful things, but a reminder of the liberties and blessings we so often take for granted.
Benjamin Franklin famously remarked that we have “a Republic, if [we] can keep it,” and we can keep it only if we each do our part. A Republic requires an informed and engaged citizenry and true public servants to represent them, men and women who view public service as a burden willingly shouldered rather than an opportunity for self-promotion.
We owe it to those who’ve gone before us–those who pledged and sometimes sacrificed their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor–and to those who come after us–our children and grandchildren–to ensure that the torch of liberty continues to burn bright and true. Let us pledge our lives, fortune, and sacred honor, to die for the cause of liberty, if necessary, sure, but beyond that, to live for it. To learn about candidates and issues, to vote, to do all the little things that help strengthen neighborhoods, communities, our State and our Nation. That we may do so is my hope and prayer today, on this Fourth of July, 2015, exactly 239 years from the date our Nation’s Founders signed the Declaration of Independence.
Happy Fourth of July!