"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." - John Adams, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, July 3, 1776
He was close. The Second Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, but it didn't approve the language of the Declaration of Independence until July 4, which became the date of celebration.
And celebrate we should. Serving as a state representative has only heightened my appreciation of our form of government. In my short time in the legislature, I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. It would be easy to focus on the bad and the ugly, but I choose to focus on the good - and our form of government is good, even when our government is not. These are cynical times, but I choose not to be cynical. I choose to celebrate. I choose to celebrate our founding and our freedom.
Any celebration, however, should be accompanied by renewed vigilance. Another founding father, Thomas Jefferson, is credited with saying, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." We're behind on our payments.
Our nation is divided, and the division is not as simple as the difference between tea and coffee. The division is the result of a lack of vigilance, and only through renewed and constant vigilance will we prevent further division and lessen the division that exists. Only through renewed and constant vigilance will we be able to ensure that future generations of Americans will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July.
This is an election year. What kind of fireworks will we see? Both fireworks and politics have explosive potential; they can injure or inspire, depending on how they are used. Just as I wish you a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July weekend, I wish for a safe and free nation.
It is significant that we choose to celebrate Independence Day not on the date of the vote for independence, but on the date on which independence was declared in writing. The words matter, and our founding documents are as relevant today as they were more than 200 years ago. I invite you to join me in reading them.
The Fourth of July should be a day of celebration, and it also should be a solemn day, as Adams suggested. Before the pomp and parade, before the shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, we should pause to reflect on our founding. This weekend, my family and I will celebrate, and we will read. We will read the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Nerdy? Perhaps. Necessary? Absolutely. Vigilance requires it.
Please allow me to start your reading with the introduction to the Declaration of Independence:
"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,-That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.-Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."
Regardless of whether we sip tea or coffee - or something else or nothing at all - while we read, facts - and our future - should be our common concern.