It took the modern world two days to catch up to President John Adams’ enthusiasm for a national celebration. On July 3, 1776, Adams wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
Three of the country’s first five presidents died on the Fourth of July. Ideological rivals during their politically formative years and after, owing largely to an election that is still considered one of the most disreputable in the nation’s history, Adams, the second president of the United States, and Jefferson, drew close together after both had put aside active politics. Adams died at 90, Jefferson at 83, hours apart on July 4, 1826. Before he breathed his last, Adams whispered – almost a prayer -- “Jefferson still lives.”
Five years after the deaths of Adam and Jefferson, the fifth President of the United States, James Monroe, died on July Fourth. The much underrated Calvin Coolidge was born on the Fourth of July, 1872.
The Fourth of July marked a turning point in the Civil War after Confederate General John Pemberton surrendered to Union forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863. Two years later, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant after the Battle of Appomattox Court House. Following General Pemberton’s surrender at Vicksburg -- which severed the trans-Mississippi states of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas from the rest of the Confederacy, thus depriving its army of much of the food, supplies and thousands of men that those states had provided -- the town declined to participate in Fourth of July celebrations for the next 78 years.
Vicksburg has since relented, according to an announcement published in June of this year that promises: “The City of Vicksburg presents a Fireworks Extravaganza ‘Red White and Blues’ featuring Mr. Sipp ‘The Mississippi Blues Child’. The event starts at 7:00 pm. Fireworks show starts at 9:00 pm. There will be a special tribute to Willie Dixon (July 1, 1915- January 29, 1992).”
Next year in New York, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, the Four of July will be less memorable, solemn and celebratory than Adams initially had hoped. The mayor, who is coming to resemble former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in his instinctive aversion to all things joyous, has called upon New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto a bill that would legalize SPARKLERS outside the precincts of New York City. Presently, sparklers and all other fireworks are banned in the city; Bloomberg’s ban would extend the city’s ban to the rest of the state. Following Bloomberg’s ban on “Big Gulps,” the sparkler ban is likely to prove incendiary. Already, the mayor has been called a “dope” by Fourth of July patriots.
The mayor’s spokesperson alleges that the state-wide ban is necessary to protect the city from terrorists “such as failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, who bought a package of legal M-88 from out of state to help ignite his dud bomb in 2010.” Mr. Bloomberg’s critics point out sparklers contain no gunpowder -- you numbskull.
Congress made the Fourth of July a national holiday about 100 years after John Hancock boldly signed the Declaration of Independence in a large and imposing script, so that the King of England could not fail to see it; this at a time when the King’s forces were violently suppressing an insurrection in Boston.
Samuel Adams’ doom upon those of his fellow citizens who hung back in the shadows and did nothing while the king’s agents were harrying Boston citizens was as scorching as a Fourth of July firework: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”
It is the much neglected Samuel Adams, rabble rouser and pamphleteer, who is the great herald and apostle of American liberty.
Just listen to him: “It is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection, and defense of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”
The right of the people to exult in their God given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – this is the fire than ran hot in the blood of our political prophets. Let it erupt this Fourth of July in displays of patriotism that would gratify the founders who gave us our deposit of liberty in trust.
“We have given you a Republic,” said Ben Franklin to a woman outside Liberty Hall in Pennsylvania after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, “if you can keep it.”