“One of the most important of life’s lessons is to learn independence, to understand freedom. This means independence from attachments, from results, from opinions, and from expectations.”
Brian Weiss, Messages from the Masters
“It’s Fourth of July weekend, or, as I call it, exploding Christmas.”
“True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth…”
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
“I always have the most fun on the Fourth of July. You don’t have to exchange any gifts. You just go to the beach and watch fireworks. It’s always fun.”
“In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”
“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle. But with family picnics where kids throws Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
“All people are born alike. Except Republicans and Democrats.”
“And one day people will celebrate this day by getting shit-faced and lighting Chinese explosives – Thomas Jefferson 1776.”
“The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
“It is those who have struggled the most, and who’ve been forced to be the most creative, that have the most to teach us.”
– Matthew Dennis, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
As I hear the sound of fireworks booming in the distance, not far from my suburban Dallas home, I contemplate the value and wisdom of patriotism. Independence Day is slowly winding down here in the U.S. If you’ve looked closely at my Gravatar photo, you can see I’m wearing a vest in the emblem of the American flag. It’s quite clear to most that I’m proud to be a citizen of this country. It hasn’t been easy, though, these past few years to sustain that type of joy. But, national pride is like being in a relationship: you love the other person most of the time; other days, you just want to walk away and say to hell with it. No one is perfect, and therefore, neither is any nation perfect.
Since the turn of the century, the U.S. has come under attack – not so much from without as from within. The multiple terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed most everyone here. But, as the nation beamed in its refreshed vanity, I suspected some would use that as an excuse to denigrate anything that seemed remotely different and anyone who didn’t fully see their point of view. I just didn’t know it would get this bad.
The U.S. is embroiled in the worst economic crisis in nearly eight decades; an onslaught of mismanagement brought about by uneven tax cuts, two wars and deregulation of the financial and housing industries. As our military return home to foreclosed homes and lackluster health services, some of the wealthiest citizens hide their money in offshore bank accounts. School districts are laying off teachers, and police are fighting crime with fewer and fewer resources. Congressional members left Washington last weekend without acting to prevent student loan rates from doubling.
So, why the prideful feelings? Why don that flag vest and express joy in being an American? Because it will get better. Despite all the angst and frustration, this country is still one of the best places to live. Yes, it could improve in terms of education and health care. But, that’s just the point: the potential is there. People have scoffed at my national pride; thinking I’m a fool, a naïve dunce who should know better. But, I’ve looked at them and asked what they’ve done to improve their own lot in life. What, I’ve queried – looking hard at the arrogant scowls that blister their faces – have they done to make this country a better place?
Criticism without action is pointless – and stupid. It goes back to the relationship issue. If you really love and care for someone, you’ll tell them when you feel they’re wrong. You’ll look them in the eyes and relay your concerns and your fears. You know they could do better.
The U.S. is the self-proclaimed beacon of freedom and democracy. We have the oldest national constitution one Earth. We are a democratic nation, and a democracy requires interaction among its citizens; it demands political engagement. After the controversial 2000 presidential elections, a friend told me he didn’t vote because he felt it didn’t count and pointed to the election results as proof. He then admitted the real reason he didn’t vote: he didn’t want the IRS to find him, since he owed so much in student loans and credit card debt at the time. Excuse me?
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “You have a social security number and a driver’s license. If the IRS wanted to find you, believe me, they’ll find you!”
Whenever I hear my fellow Americans dismiss the value of elections, I consider the tens of millions of people around the world who wished they had the luxury of choosing between the lesser of two evils. When they lament the lack of freedom for the poor, I see other Americans stepping in to fill the void of hunger. When they remark on this nation’s history of racist oppression, I remind them those days no longer exist; we’ve come a long way since then.
The U.S. is going through one of the toughest period in its existence. I don’t know. It just is. But, I suspect it’s the result of inaction on the part of the citizenry; people like my friend who didn’t bother to vote and who had resigned their country to an uncertain fate.
Yet, when I hear the extremists say they despise America – simply because it’s not working for them in particular – I recall the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.”
Wherever you live, in whatever nation you call home, you simply can’t expect others to do things for you. You have to make your country work for you. It’s an endless chore. But, there’s no sensible alternative.
1. The Declaration of Independence Was Signed on July 4
Independence Day is celebrated two days too late. The Second Continental Congress voted for a Declaration of Independence on July 2, prompting John Adams to write his wife, “I am apt to believe that [July 2, 1776], will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”
Adams correctly foresaw shows, games, sports, buns, bells, and bonfires – but he got the date wrong. The written document wasn’t edited and approved until the Fourth of July, and that was the date printers affixed to “broadside” announcements sent out across the land. July 2 was soon forgotten.
In fact, no one actually signed the Declaration of Independence at any time during July 1776. Signing began on August 2, with John Hancock’s famously bold scribble, and wasn’t completed until late November.
Patriot Paul Revere really did hit the road on the night of April 18, 1775, to alert the countryside that British troops were on the move. But the image of an inspired, lone rider isn’t accurate. Revere was part of a low-tech – but highly effective – early-warning system.
The system did include lanterns at Boston’s Old North Church, from whose steeple the church sexton, Robert Newman, held two lanterns as a signal that the British were coming. However Revere wasn’t watching for them that night.
Revere and fellow rider William Dawes, who was sent by a different route, successfully reached Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that they’d likely be arrested. But Revere and Dawes were captured by the British with third rider Samuel Prescott soon afterward.
The liberties later taken with the Revere legend weren’t mistakes but deliberate mythmaking by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who intended his famous 19th century poem to stoke patriotism on the eve of the Civil War. The ride’s real story is told at Paul Revere House, the Boston museum where Revere once lived and from which he left on that fateful night.
3. July 4, 1776, Party Cracked the Liberty Bell
U.S. independence surely prompted a party, but joyful patriots didn’t ring the Liberty Bell until it cracked on July 4, 1776. In fact the State House Bell likely didn’t ring at all that day. It probably did ring, along with the city’s other bells, to herald the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, according to a history of the bell published by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
As for that crack, well, the bell had been poorly cast and cracked soon after its arrival in 1752. The bell was subsequently recast, and re-cracked, several times but was intact during the Revolutionary War.
Today’s iconic crack actually appeared sometime during the 19th century, though the exact date is in dispute. It was also during this period that the bell became popularly known as the Liberty Bell, a term coined by abolitionists.
4. Patriots Flocked to Fight for Freedom
This enduring image is accurate, when describing the beginning of the Revolutionary War. But, as it became clear that the struggle for independence would be long and difficult, the enthusiasm of many American men for fighting began to wane, while their concerns for the well-being of their farms and other livelihoods grew.
After initial enlistment rushes, many colonies resorted to cash incentives as early as 1776 and states were drafting men by the end of 1778, according to historian John Ferling in a 2004 Smithsonian magazine article.
5. The Declaration of Independence Holds Secret Messages
Some revolutionary myths are of modern origin. There’s no invisible message or map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, as depicted in the film National Treasure. But the National Archives admits there is something written on the back of the priceless document.
A line on the bottom of the parchment reads “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” Why? The large document would have been rolled for travel and storage during the 18th century, so the reverse-side writing likely acted as a label to identify the document while it was rolled up.
6. John Adams Died Thinking of Thomas Jefferson
Incredibly both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did die on the Fourth of July, but there’s no real evidence to suggest that Adams’s final thoughts were with Jefferson or that he uttered “Jefferson survives” on his deathbed.
Even if he had, he’d have been wrong, as Jefferson beat him in death by several hours. The day does seem inauspicious for presidents, however. The less celebrated James Monroe also died on July 4, in 1831.
7. America United Against the British
The Revolutionary War also pitted Americans against Americans in large numbers. Perhaps 15 to 20 percent of all Americans were loyalists who supported the crown, according to the U.K. National Army Museum. Many others tried to stay out of the fight altogether.
Records from the period are sketchy at best, but an estimated 50,000 Americans served as British soldiers or militia at one time or another during the conflict, a significant force pitted against a Continental Army that may have included a hundred thousand regular soldiers over the course of the war.
8. Betsy Ross Made the First American Flag
There is no proof that Betsy Ross played any part in designing or sewing the American flag that made its debut in 1777. In fact, the story of the famous seamstress didn’t circulate until it was raised by her grandson nearly a century after the fact, and the only evidence is testimony to this family tradition.
To be fair, there’s also no conclusive evidence that Ross didn’t sew the flag, and there are several reasons why she just might have done so. The Betsy Ross House on Philadelphia’s Arch Street (where Ross may or may not have actually lived) tells the whole tale and leaves visitors to draw their own conclusions.
9. Native Americans Sided With the British
“(He) has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”
The Declaration of Independence made this claim against King George III, and many Native Americans did eventually fight with the British. But many others sided with people in the colonies or simply tried to stay out of the European conflict altogether, according to Dartmouth College historian Colin Galloway, author of The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities.
Most New England Indians supported the Continentals, and the powerful Iroquois Confederacy was split by the conflict. Native “redcoats” fought not for love of King George but in hopes of saving their own homelands, which they thought would to be the spoils of the War for Independence.
Those who allied themselves with the British saw their lands lost in the Peace of Paris treaty, but Native Americans who supported Americans fared little better in the long run.
On this latter note, I want to add that – for better or worst – this is the country we have and it’s still a work in progress. Things definitely are much better now than they were 200-plus years ago. And, they’ll only get better because people like us who care about the place where they live make certain of it!
Article courtesy National Geographic.