By: Treasurer David McRae
In the hours after John Adams placed his freedom-delivering vote on July 2, 1776, he predicted America’s independence would be celebrated by succeeding generations with “bonfires and illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other.” He wasn’t wrong.
The feeling of celebratory unity that must have been shared that day, however, was fleeting. By the mid-1790s, the day of “Pomp and Parade” had devolved into a showing of uncompromising partisanship, with members of the newly formed political parties holding separate festivals in most major cities.
As we know all too well, the nation’s divisive cracks only deepened over the next half-century until we broke into a scarring Civil War. By 1870, however, the country was ready to unite again and Independence Day was made an American holiday. Then-Speaker of the U.S. House James Blaine said during the one of the country’s first official Independence Day celebrations: “There is no ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ on the Fourth of July – all are Americans.” Independence Day was once again a bipartisan celebration.
How do you view our country this Fourth of July? One where we are all Americans? Or one that has been bitterly divided by partisan politics?
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken just before the 2020 election seems to give a decisive answer. They found 85 percent of voters described America as being “greatly divided by values.” If you ask me, things haven’t gotten any more united since then.
That said, I don’t think there’s reason to lose all hope in the future of our democracy. We have something special, as President Ronald Reagan wrote: “We are blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these things are worth fighting for…”
Americans today might see the path forward differently, but I truly believe We the People ultimately want liberty, freedom, and fairness for all. What’s more, I believe the arc of our democracy bends toward these values. That’s not to say it’s time to put on the cruise control. President John F. Kennedy rightly argued that “If freedom is to survive and prosper, it will require the sacrifice, the effort and the thoughtful attention of every citizen.”
Our independence was not easily won and freedom wasn’t captured because the Founding Fathers agreed on 100 percent of the issues; the reality is they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. We were victorious over tyranny because the American people, however imperfect, put aside differences for a greater pursuit of liberty, freedom, and fairness. May we all take a moment this week to give thoughtful attention to what we stand for as Americans and how we can personally play a role in protecting that.
Happy Independence Day!