Fourth of July signifies more than just a day to fire up grill

It doesn’t seem our focus anymore to bring up the meaning of holidays we celebrate, which explains why increasing numbers of citizens don’t know much about holidays like Independence Day or Memorial Day. These holidays are, after all, something more than good opportunities to get something to eat and shop for a good deal on a washer and dryer.

If you think I might be exaggerating that a disturbing percentage of our nation’s population lacks knowledge about the Fourth of July, I might remind you that a poll in 2010 found that one in four Americans couldn’t name the country the United States declared its independence from on July 4, 1776.

I suspect if you want to feel especially bleak about our grasp of our nation’s history, ask a few people to rank by order of occurrence four wars: the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, World War I and the War of 1812. I’m going to bet the results of this question will be less than encouraging.

It might be helpful to remember that most national holidays exist, at least in their beginning, as a time of celebration and/or reflection on certain values or events that should be remembered, not just as historical happenstance but, as in the case of the Fourth of July, a time of bravery, intellect and more than a bit of that uniquely American boldness.

It was a bold time when the upstart American colonies thought they could unhitch themselves from the mighty British Empire. The colonies were in a difficult zone where they were too important to let go but thought not strong enough to fight themselves free.

What made this a unique experience in history was that the American Revolution was essentially a “small c” conservative one. This was no peasant revolt or Marxian-type revolution with workers seizing the means of production. This was an economic and philosophical revolution based on a belief in the natural rights of individuals with inherent and God-given rights to liberty — both personal and commercial.

Safety and security were thought to be of small worth compared to the inherent value in the freedom to choose one’s destiny. Benjamin Franklin’s quote that those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserved neither was oft repeated during the War for Independence.

My feelings are especially strong about the Fourth of July because I know that in 1744 a German immigrant by the name of Hans Jacob Wagner came to this country. My great-great-great-grandfather was so taken with this land and the idea of freedom that he and my three equally great uncles enlisted in 1776 and served with Capt. John Arndt’s Associators and Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolutionary War, which all of them survived.

I feel much the same way about our nation and our state. It is for this reason that on this Fourth of July I wonder at the casualness of citizens when we trade liberty for so very little – oftentimes, not even for small security.

Each July many new laws in the state of Colorado go into effect; none of us are even aware of the existence of most of them. Each law criminalizes or directs our behavior and limits, sometimes necessarily, our personal freedom.

But this constant growth imperils the very lifestyle it often hopes to protect. This led author Harry Silverglate to pen his book “Three Felonies a Day,” a prediction of the average number of violations the typical citizen probably commits due to broad and vague statutes, regulations, and these days, I suppose, executive orders that invisibly surround us.

Here in Colorado, I can make a stack of the Colorado Revised Statutes in standard book form that is taller than a St. Bernard and much less likely to rescue you or bring you brandy.

If we were to include the associated Colorado Code of Regulations, the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, we would create a Titan.

With that in mind, when we send our state and national legislators back to our capital cities next year, perhaps we could ask them to remember our founding and do less to us — and perhaps undo more.

Rick Wagner writes more about politics on his blog, The War on Wrong.


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