Somewhere along the way, as with most national celebrations, we lost sight of what we were celebrating on July Fourth. Thanksgiving is little more than an excuse for gluttony. Christmas has become a crass demonstration of wanton consumption. And Independence Day is now but an exercise in beer drinking, flag waving, and noise with no purpose but to trumpet past glories.
Perhaps the widespread ban on fireworks will give some of us time to reflect on what drove our forefathers into rebellion, an uprising of a rag-tag band of idealists against the world’s greatest empire. What made them think they had even the minutest chance of prevailing?
It definitely wasn’t as if the colonists were a highly cohesive unit of like-minded, iron-willed people. They varied from merchants who prospered under British rule to anarchistic frontiersmen, bound only by a thirst for liberty. They only yearned to be freed of the despotic bonds of a highly centralized authority so each could follow his own path.
The Fourth of July should be a celebration of our differences, for that is what defines liberty and is our greatest strength. There would be no America today if the colonists had engaged in endless squabbles trying to create a nation conforming to the ideals of any one group. They chose instead to forge a nation in which all groups could flourish free of the iron grip of a powerful central government.
Our forefathers had no vision of building an empire. In his parting words George Washington admonished the people to “beware of foreign entanglements.” Yet we were prepared to defend our rightful place among the nations of the world, often against overwhelming odds. We persevered, and we prevailed.
Gradually we began to stray from the path, however. Those who had profited most from our liberty began to demand a stronger government to protect their interests and gain dominance over others. Civil war grew inevitable as others felt their inalienable rights were being usurped.
The true victim of the Civil War was our idealism. The nation born of liberty and ruled by popular consent had been held intact by force. We had come to a fork in the road and we chose to take the path most feared by the framers of the Constitution. We have been the poorer for it ever since.
It can be argued that such idealism has no place in the modern world. Perhaps that is true. But it would be glorious if for just one day each year we could set aside our differences and celebrate the spirit that gave birth to the most improbable yet greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever witnessed.
Happy birthday, America.