The Potential of the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the day was set aside for cooking out, boating and fireworks. Family and friends got together to pick crabs, swim, and enjoy the nice weather. I always went to bed exhausted, often after chasing fireflies into the night. It was a celebration full of life, which I think explains why it became one of my favorite holidays.

At its best I believe that is what July 4th is meant to symbolize: life for all. We set aside one day each year to remember our domestic decision to be independent. We repeated the familiar words, “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.”

Nearly 250 years post-independence, we spend July 4th reflecting on how far we’ve come and aspiring toward a more just future. No longer do we desire for just all men to be created equal, but for all people. No longer do we lodge our grievances against a foreign government, but we elect our leaders and govern ourselves. And yet, too many people in our country still do not have the “unalienable Rights” ascribed to them, often due to their past choices or the circumstances of their birth. What’s more, could the “unanimous” tone with which the Declaration of Independence is written, be replicated today? Is there anything that we, the citizens of these United States of America, agree upon unanimously?

I propose that there should be, could be, one thing we all agree upon: that the Fourth of July should be good news to all citizens of the United States. And when in the course of human events it becomes apparent that it is not good news for some citizens, then it is imperative that the cause of such disunion be addressed. When our neighbor suffers, we suffer.

The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate the founding of our nation and to remember the ideals to which it espouses. It is a day to be honest about our past and our future. It is a day to recognize our country for what it is: a nation among nations on the earth where we reside. God has placed each of us here in this country at this time, which begs the question, “What will we do in response?” I suggest celebrating what is good about our nation, never tiring of addressing its faults, and, above all, loving our neighbor as ourself. Whether this is done on the waters of the Chesapeake, the streets of the Main Line, or in another corner of our nation, I pray it is full of life for all people.

I will finish in the same manner as Frederick Douglass did in his 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” by quoting “the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison”:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,

And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered fights again

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end.
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
That hour will come, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive —
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.