Posted by lex, on July 4th, 2007 Three holidays define the summer months, with Memorial Day at the beginning, Labor Day at the end and the Fourth of July angling towards the middle. The outer markers “belong” in some sense to constituencies of their own, but the Fourth belongs to all of us.
And if we are today deeply divided, dissatisfied even in unprecedented prosperity and always eager to find fault, we can at least take some solace in the fact that it was ever thus: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, both sat on the committee that drafted it and Jefferson himself it was who turned the document of American independence from a laundry list of imperial grievances into a work both eloquent and startlingly radical:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
“Says who?” countered the Divine Right of Kings, and it would be another 7 years and 43,000 or so lives lost in battle or to disease before George gave it all up as too much bother, this confraternal butchery.
Having successfully brought their countrymen to the precipice, and safely navigating them through the aristocratic Virginia planter and his Yankee lawyer co-conspirator would eventually have a falling out, becoming bitter political enemies. The final cleft was cloven when Jefferson, who had served as Adams vice president for four years, narrowly defeated his boss in his 1797 bid for re-election.
The two didn’t speak for fifteen years after – a depressed Adams skipped Jefferson’s inauguration entirely – before a mutual friend fostered a reconciliation in 1812. Their increasingly warm exchange of letters in this period greatly illuminate the political and philosophical times surrounding our country’s birth, and the frail old men died within hours of each other on the 4th of July, 1826.
If we, the heirs to all the blessings that accrued from these men and their brothers yet nurture intermural grievances of our own, then at least we also have their example of great ideas nobly contested, lives well lived and ultimate filial reconciliation. That, my friends, is a great deal to be grateful for.
And if that’s not enough, well – there’s always this.
Happy Birthday, America.