In a letter dated July 3, 1776, founding father and future president John Adams writes to his wife Abigail:
But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
John Adams expected, even hoped the nascent government would celebrate its day of independence on July 2nd, the day in which the continental congress declared their independence from England. But the 4th of July became the noted day to honor because of the actual signing of the Declaration of Independence. Yet it wouldn't be until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris would be signed making the deal official, making America an independent nation.
Adams' letter continues in his expectations for the great day: I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. 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.
For the past week, the nation has been gearing up for the Epocha Adams expected. Tonight's fireworks mimic the sounds of canons, and the pah, pah, pa, pa, echoes like a field of rifles. Certain roads have been closed for the parade and yesterday, almost every cart in the grocery store was loaded with chips and soda. We too will gather for a celebration with family and friends.
Festivities nailed, how would Adams rate us on our respect and understanding of the great historical document, part of the cause for celebration?
Before the establishment of the United States, national identity was determined by blood and soil, but America's 13 colonies differed in blood lines, culture, and religion. What would determine an American? What gave the 13 colonies the right to call themselves "one people?"
It was in part geography, and the common desire to strip themselves from the rule of tyranny, but there was something even more grand that became the uniting factor--what determined an American was that he belonged to a body of people that proclaimed: 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.
Never before had a government been founded on the truth that all mean are equal. Previously the right to rule was given to a king or queen by inheritance, or a chief by superiority, and in many cases by their assumed God given right to rule a lesser people.
The truths were self evident in the same way the laws of physics held true every time a plate was dropped--it always fell downward. The very existence of man, that he is born, that his heart beats, that he is susceptible to sickness and death, is the self evident truth that all men are equal based upon the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitled to all.
Yet, life circumstances and the very nature of the creator, create inequality. We are born with different intellects, body strengths and weaknesses, varying degrees of beauty; we are born into privilege or not, or into poverty with varying degrees of opportunity or lack thereof.
In spite of the obvious inequalities, our forefathers recognized equality was supreme and in this recognition gave our government the task of insuring everyone was entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Since we the people means us, means me, it therefore becomes my personal charge to insure what the Declaration of Independence demands.
I am unsure of how to fulfill my civic duty on a larger scale, but on a smaller scale it is clear--it is requisite that I personally treat everyone with equality and do my best to insure everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This is the responsibility, the joy of being an American.