Happy Fourth of July

It’s only July 3, of course. But, since The Daily Sentinel doesn’t publish a Commentary Page on Saturday, we decided to offer the salutation a day early.

Besides, early in our history, there was some dispute over what date should represent the birth of the United States of America.

It was on July 2, 1776, that the members of the Continental Congress declared the 13 colonies independent from England and its king. John Adams believed that would be the date remembered by history. “I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” he famously wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail.

It wasn’t until July 4 that the Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. And it was nearly a month later, Aug. 2,, that most of the delegates signed the document.

The signing was not accomplished in a single session, with all of the members present, despite the famous John Trumbull painting that hangs in the U.S. Capitol and depicts such a scene.

The confusion over dates was resolved before long, however. Philadelphia and other cities in the young nation celebrated the first anniversary of the nation’s birth on July 4, 1777.

Philadelphia’s festivities that year would have been recognizable to most American citizens today. There was a parade, fireworks, the firing of a cannon and generous displays of the nation’s colors, according to American University historian James R. Heintze, who has written books about the Fourth of July. The celebration also included music, a community dinner (not yet called a barbecue) “loud huzzahs,” the ringing of bells and the drinking of toasts.

Although the nation’s future was far from guaranteed in the summer of 1777, Philadelphians were eager to celebrate that year.

We have far more reason to celebrate 232 years later. Although there may be problems and disputes facing this country, we continue to deal with them — mostly peacefully — under the framework established by the founders. While we often disagree, loudly and vociferously, we do so with the rights and liberties they claimed for themselves and future generations.

So happy Fourth of July, one day early. May we also work to preserve those liberties and rights for future generations.


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