The Glorious Fourth

In Stonington, the lampposts and businesses are bedecked in flags and bunting, and at private homes tiny American flags wave gently in the breeze from the harbor as the citizens celebrate our oldest, and most bedrock, American holiday. The local newspaper has done its part by reprinting, in full, the text of the Declaration of Independence, which is of course the reason for this celebration in the first place.

It is interesting that, in America, our first national holiday commemorates the simple publication of a declaration, not a victory in a bloody battle. In fact, most of us would be hard-pressed to identify the date of the Battle of Yorktown that caused Great Britain to finally acknowledge our independence, or the date of the peace treaty that formally recognized it. We celebrate the Fourth of July because that is when the united colonies bravely issued a document that spoke of concepts of equality, inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the proper relationship between citizens and their government. Many people in mighty England laughed at the temerity of the sweeping declaration issued by this disparate group of states, but it is the Declaration, and not the scoffers, that has stood the test of time. They are long forgotten, while the Declaration is still remembered and celebrated, 245 years later.

Of course, the authors and signers of the Declaration weren’t perfect, and the colonies themselves did not meet the lofty ideals the Declaration articulated. There were slave holders among them who not only didn’t implement the concepts of equality and personal liberty reflected in the Declaration, they personally, and brutally, enforced the opposite. Women’s equal rights also were not recognized, and there were countless other instances of imperfection and benighted thinking. But, as Abraham Lincoln recognized, the Declaration of Independence is best seen as an aspirational document that established goals for what the new nation hoped to be. Lincoln repeatedly drew on the Declaration for inspiration, including in the Gettysburg Address. He knew that its concepts would help to rally the Union forward, end the scourge of slavery, and allow the nation to experience a “new birth of freedom.”

In the same way, we can always benefit by reading the words of the Declaration, understanding it’s aspirational message, and never losing sight of the importance of striving to reach the concepts of equality, liberty, and the true role of government and governed that it embodies.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Pennsylvania’s New Welcome

On Tuesday I drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  As I crossed the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I noticed that Pennsylvania had a new sign welcoming motorists.  It had “Pennsylvania” written in a kind of kicky script, with the lowercase slogan:  “pursue your happiness.”

pa-signpng-dbea1948237525b4Pennsylvania used to have a more sober sign saying that Pennsylvania welcomes you and referring to the Keystone State as the “State of Independence.”  Now Pennsylvania has taken a decidedly different approach.  Before, it was content to simply be known as the “State of Independence,” referring to its historical status as home to the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence  Now Pennsylvania has lifted a line from the Declaration’s reference to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and issued a directive that motorists must “pursue your happiness” there.

With the use of the kicky new script Pennsylvania and slogan, it’s almost as if Pennsylvania is trying to use road signs — road signs, of all things — to project a cooler, more youthful image.  No doubt the new sign was the product of a long, costly, consultant-filled campaign to pick a new look and slogan . . . and this is what they got.

Who knows?  Maybe the signs will work, and every driver crossing into Pennsylvania will resolve to change their ways and relentlessly pursue happiness with every fiber of their being for so long as they are in the state.  The Pennsylvania sign really puts a lot of pressure on the driver, when you think about it.  If a visitor would just like to get to their hotel, get a quick bite, and then crash, which is what I did, they’re not exactly living up to the command on the road sign, are they?

I suppose it’s tough coming up with road signs welcoming drivers to a new state.  We’re long past the straightforward “Welcome to Ohio” days.  Now, everybody’s got to have a slogan.  When I drove back to Columbus last night, I checked out Ohio’s welcome sign at the end of the bridge spanning the Ohio River, and it says “Welcome to Ohio.  So much to discover!”  It’s pretty bland and forgettable, I guess, but at least it’s not instructing me on how to live my life.

 

Things I Like About Independence Day

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, and when it falls on a Friday and makes for a three-day weekend, like this year, it’s extra special.  Call it corny, call it nationalistic, but there are lots of things about Independence Day that I really like:

*  Bunting

*  John Philip Sousa marches played on the radio

IMG_6266*  Little flags that people stick along the sides of their front walkways

*  Parades that feature both grizzled war veterans wearing their uniforms and little kids riding bicycles they’ve decorated from the wheel spokes to the handlebars

*  Somber readings of the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address by gravelly-voiced actors

*  Flag-themed freebies, like hand fans, distributed by local businesses

*  Evening cookouts with friends where people wear red, white, and blue clothing

*  Driving home at night and seeing distant suburban fireworks shows on the horizon

The Fourth of July is a fun, festive holiday.  I’m sure some people think the patriotic displays and red, white, and blue saturation are over the top, but I think they serve an important purpose:  they remind us of why our country was formed in the first place and should make us thing about why we are so lucky to live here.  If seeing the Stars and Stripes everywhere we look causes even a tiny fraction of Americans to reflect on the Founders, the interests in liberty and freedom that led to the Revolutionary War, and the principles on which our government was founded, that is a good thing.