Why not move the "4th of July" to a Monday?
A requiem for eloquence, as the meaning of patriotism becomes mere words.
Eloquence is dead, but it is regularly exhumed and freshly buried again, usually at this time of year. A friend recently remarked to me that the 4th of July should be moved from the 4th of July to the first Monday in July. It’s become a weekend grilling holiday, like Labor Day, Memorial Day, or Presidents Day. The meaning, he said, has been lost.
Let’s look at that. This date honors, not that independence from England was approved by Congress—that was July 2nd, 1776. Nor was it that the Declaration of Independence itself was signed on July 4th—that was August 2nd. What happened on July 4th was simple eloquence: Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the document, as we know it today, was ratified by Congress and ordered distributed to the 13 states. What we celebrate this day is the words that Jefferson wrote so eloquently setting out the ideals of liberty.
The Declaration is very simple in its construction. Jefferson first explains that we, as a “people,” are entitled to a “separate and equal station” and this right comes from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” He admits when such a political separation occurs, we do owe our former lords some kind of explanation. It is that explanation which lays the foundation of our nation’s concept of self-government.
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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It is the ends of the governed to seek Safety and Happiness, which themselves are given by a right to Life and Liberty. The governed therefore have the right to secure the government among themselves, organize it and give it consent to govern. Of course, tossing out one government as “destructive” versus fixing it is not a petty concern, as Jefferson immediately concedes. The bar for this abolishing political bands is therefore nothing short of “absolute Despotism,” which he attributed directly to the King of Great Britain.
Jefferson then supported his accusation with 27 specific charges against the King and parliament (“combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation”).
As a legal argument, the Declaration of Independence is an indictment, a finding, and a judgement. The ultimate Judge to whom Jefferson addresses his appeal is “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare…”
That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
It was never intended that Americans would agree in all ways to all things. It was never intended that we would even agree in small ways to big things. This is the basic conundrum we face with the word “patriotism.” That word is hurled like a pointed weapon at anyone who dares to think differently about the nature of this country, our rights, freedoms, government, and society, by self-proclaimed guardians of what they believe is the “Right” and “ought” of “Free and Independent States.”
When the Declaration was signed, there wasn’t even agreement that this new nation, when or if it was won, would set up its own monarchy. Many Americans wanted George Washington to become king. Had he taken the offer, he would have been a good one. There is a statue of Washington in London, a gift from the Commonwealth of Virginia; it’s appropriate, given that King George III, when told of Washington’s plans to step down after two terms as President, replied “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
To keep America to the high bar set by the Declaration of Independence, it takes, now and then, great men and women. It takes more than mere eloquence dug fresh out of history, only to be buried again when the moment expires. It takes more than a few fireworks and a case of beer to explain patriotism.
These days, the word “patriot” means various things, depending on who is asked. It’s a question of Black or white, Asian-American, hispanic-American, this-American or that-hyphenated American. We’ve always been a nation of great diversity, of cultures streaming in, frightening the established order, and eventually winning their own place in our e pluribus unum. Some have had a very rough journey, which continues—slavery is not easily blotted out. My parents knew an America where the Italian neighborhoods, the Irish neighborhoods, and the Jewish neighborhoods rarely mixed in large groups, but individually formed lasting bonds of friendship.
The political identity-politics of this particular time favor people keeping not only groups apart, but also individuals, lest the group identity be polluted from contact with “the others.” Some of these groups are actually toxic: I’d avoid anyone who proudly admits they are a “Proud Boi”; but to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s also evil to be a Southern Baptist.
It’s patriotic to be tolerant and let others have their opinions, but to some kids and adults in a Massachusetts town, not enough is being done to limit student speech and thoughts because of “transphobia.” And believe me, Amherst, Mass is one of the most socially liberal places you can find anywhere. To many on the “patriot” train, one can never be pure enough of heart and mind to avoid being regulated into compliance. To these neo-Puritans, unity means nothing short of full-throated single-mindedness. There’s no “pluribus” in their “unum.”
That’s not the America the signers of the Declaration of Independence saw. Open declarations of political sovereignty were reserved for despots, not petty extremists or barstool militia. Even the bar for treason is set very, very high. Mere opposition to the current government ought not to be criminal. If I might offer and reiterate an unpopular opinion I have: most of the January 6th, 2021 Capitol invaders should have been given parole, if not complete amnesty. Only the leaders, planners, and of course, the ones on the podium urging them “let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” should have gotten the maximum penalty.
In that case, the patriots failed. No, I don’t mean the ones who did march down Pennsylvania Avenue—they were given a false version of patriotism. I mean the ones in the Senate who didn’t protect this country from what we’re facing now. I mean the administration currently in the White House that promised healing but has delivered division. They were supposed to be patriots, but they were merely politicians.
I think maybe my friend might be right. Maybe we should move July 4th to become merely “Independence Day,” the first Monday in July. Maybe we have extinguished the spirit of eloquence where we can understand and apply what Jefferson wrote, what the Declaration of Independence says. Maybe we have settled for the despotism that King George and his parliament offered, and have made this holiday a mere celebration of loud noises and louder words.
We can keep the holiday on July 4th, but let’s at least try to live up to the meaning of the day.