4 July 1776? In some senses, it's an odd day to pick -- hostilities (as in shooting) had begun over a year earlier and guerilla action nearly a year and a half prior to that. The war was not to end until until the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Despite the British surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 serving as an effective end to the war, 30,000 British troops occupied New York City, Charleston, and Savannah. Parliament voted to end military action in 1782.
And yet we mark 4 July 1776 as Independence Day. It wasn't the day the war begin. It wasn't the day it ended. Unlike other breakaway colonies, we certainly don't mark the day the Crown granted our independence; we threw those bums out! We don't even mark the day the Continental Congress voted for independence, or that day in August 1776 when the Declaration of Independence had gathered sufficient signatures to make it 100% official.
Nope. In the United States, we mark the day of the public announcement of an idea. The day the wild notion had been written down, ratified by Congress, and widely disseminated. The crazy notion that a people had the right of self-determination and even self-government.
And that's why you're standing in the yard with some kind of firework-y amusement right now, or grilling tasty food, or singing patriotic songs, or just sitting with a beverage. It's why Uncle Sam asked your boss to give you the day off, so that you might celebrate and in the midst of your celebration, pause for just a moment and reflect on how wildly unlikely this place and the idea that motivated it looked back in 1776, when Kings rode high, wide and mighty, occasionally -- barely! -- restrained by Parliaments and the supposed Divine right of some men to rule over others was all but unquestioned by any decent, civilized person.
We are the inheritors of a mob of thinking rabble, of wild-eyed dreamers, of secret schemers, of Colonial kids with a rifle who were generally underpaid and often longing for home. People rich and poor, clever and foolish and merely average died for a strange new idea that you grew up taking for granted, taking it as all the same as the sun and sky overhead and the ground beneath your feet -- ground claimed by their ideas and watered by their blood.
Remember it as you look up and say "ooh" and "ahh." The true wonderment is all around and despite the tarnish of years, despite blots of bad judgement and ill-will, it shines and glitters still.
6 months ago