A Founding Father’s Advice on Celebrating Independence Day


parade_sign Like other secular national holidays, Independence Day brings its share of reminders of the “true meaning” of the holiday. Enjoy your three-day weekend, we’re told, but take a moment to think about why we observe the day. This seems especially appropriate on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, when we pay tribute to those who fought and died for our country.

But unlike Veterans Day and Memorial Day, which are more observances than festive occasions, the Fourth of July is a true celebration. Still, it’s worth remembering what happened 238 years ago. Have your hot dogs and beer and watermelon, they’ll be telling us tomorrow, but make sure you take a moment to remember why we celebrate Independence Day.

John Adams, Second President (1797-1801)Fortunately for revelers, the best argument for having a party comes from none other than John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, and also apparently one of the Founding Party Animals.

Here’s how Adams thought the Fourth of July should be observed.

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. “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 forever more.”

(I found that quote on Wikipedia, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy. When I want authoritative information, I go straight to Facebook’s discussion groups.)

DSC00068I’m a little surprised that John Adams didn’t plug his cousin Samuel’s brew when dispensing advice on how to celebrate the Fourth, but since John did include guns in his celebration advice, one has to assume he didn’t want future generations mixing alcohol and firearms.

Adams’ advice to include guns in our celebrations wouldn’t go over well in today’s culture, and most Americans in 2014 no longer associate the 4th of July with “solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God.” Absent the Almighty’s guiding hand and given the amount of alcohol typically flowing, keeping guns out of the equation probably makes a lot of sense – unless they’re muskets fired by Revolutionary War re-enactors.

Adams’ advice to include “pomp and parade” in our July 4th celebration will have to wait until 2015, when Wakefield’s Independence Day Parade makes its triumphant return. And since the local open burning season has ended, don’t even think about a bonfire.

Guess we’ll just have to make do with “shows, games, bells, and illuminations.”

And maybe a little Sam Adams.

[This column originally appeared in the July 3, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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