Did you ever fall for this one: “Do they have the Fourth of July in England?”
Of course they do. They also have the third and the fifth of July. They just don’t recognize it as one of the ultimate “it’s not me, it’s you” moments in Western civilization.
The nation’s big holiday is coming up Sunday, and would it harm anyone to call it by its proper name: Independence Day? Of course not. What’s more, it might give us a real appreciation of what the holiday is all about.
And dare we mention that July 4 is not even the correct date? You can take John Adams’ word for it. “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America,” Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail. That was on July 3, 1776.
So why do we celebrate on July 4? Blame Congress, historian Pauline Maier tells us. “In 1777, Congress didn’t think of recalling the event until it was too late to celebrate the second, and the fourth became standard,” she said.
John Adams, who in later years became our first vice president and second president, chose July 2 because the Continental Congress voted for the Declaration of Independence on that day, and no one had greater authority to make that call than he did. His “claim to share in the glory of independence was well founded,” Maier said. “He did far more than Thomas Jefferson to bring Congress to the point of approving separation from Britain.”
By July 4, members of the Continental Congress had only to approve a final draft of the declaration — and then scramble out of Philadelphia before being felled by either the summer heat or the British.
The first recorded use of the name “Independence Day” did not occur until 1791, according to several sources. In 1870, Congress made it an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
Now, of course, it’s a full-blown holiday, worthy of all the pomp and circumstance we can whip up.
In the midst of all the cookouts, festivals and fun, though, we should certainly remain aware of what the holiday is all about in the first place. It’s the 245th anniversary of when 56 patriots signed the Declaration of Independence, mutually pledging “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
You’ll notice they didn’t sign the Declaration of the Fourth.
So let’s drop the ordinal number and call it what it is. Perhaps that would help us better appreciate those who put their lives on the line to secure the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Enjoy the holiday and be safe.