Here it is again, that day with all the fireworks. But what is it, really? What was wrought this day? From before 4 July 1776 through the first government seated under our present Constitution, what was going on, anyway?
From September of 1774 through March of 1789 (when Congress as we know it first started up), the States went through three Congresses and various interim forms of federal government, generally with plenty of power to incur debts and wage war but not a whole lot else; they could print money (and did, in profusion) but had nothing with which to back it. These bad habits were passed on to subsequent Congresses -- despite an honest effort by the Framers to apply some limits.
So we got our Declaration, and a nice Revolution followed by the Treaty of Paris, and thirteen years of a piffling sort of Union, so weak that, "New York and South Carolina repeatedly prosecuted Loyalists for wartime
activity and redistributed their lands over the protests of both Great
Britain and the Confederation Congress." among other things. (New York was a troubled state; if you think their state government is bad now, consider that around the same post-Treaty time as they were yanking the ground out from under Loyalists, "A rumor had it that a 'seditious party' of New York legislators had opened a conversation with the Viceroy of Canada.") Vermont sat the whole federal thing out as an independent country from 1777 through 1791! It was a mess -- but not nearly as big a mess as most post-Revolutionary nations.
We are practically the only direct inheritors of the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th Century. No other nation created in revolt has endured as long. (I'd like to tell you why -- the pre-existing tradition of self-government in the Colonies? The foundation laid by English government? Remarkably well-informed theory, brilliantly modified by practice? Divine Providence? Sheer luck? -- but no one really knows.) While it can be argued the American Revolution faltered badly in 1861-65, even the ultimately-thwarted secession of so many States did not end the country it brought into being.
What came from the Declaration of Independence has been so astoundingly successful that, indeed, "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." True, John Adams was writing about the second of July, the date the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration instead of the date of its signing, but he was right nevertheless.
I'll be excoriated for this, but the inhabitants of U.S. and Canada ought to celebrate July 2 and 3, the days between Canada Day and Independence Day, as "Co-dependence Days," in which we consider all that we love and loathe about our neighbor. We share the longest border in the world without armies watching one another over it, about 2/3 of a common language and all manner of customs, habits and entertainments -- and we share them about the same way fraternal twins between the ages of seven and twelve share the back seat of a car over the course of a day-long excursion.
4 months ago