My fellow Americans:
In a few moments the celebration will begin here in New York Harbor. It’s going to be quite a show. I was just looking over the preparations and thinking about a saying that we had back in Hollywood about never doing a scene with kids or animals because they’d steal the scene every time. So, you can rest assured I wouldn’t even think about trying to compete with a fireworks display, especially on the Fourth of July.
My remarks tonight will be brief, but it’s worth remembering that all the celebration of this day is rooted in history. It’s recorded that shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia celebrations took place throughout the land, and many of the former Colonists — they were just starting to call themselves Americans — set off cannons and marched in fife and drum parades.
What a contrast with the sober scene that had taken place a short time earlier in Independence Hall. Fifty-six men came forward to sign the parchment. It was noted at the time that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. And that was more than rhetoric; each of those men knew the penalty for high treason to the Crown. “We must all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin said, “or, assuredly, we will all hang separately.” And John Hancock, it is said, wrote his signature in large script so King George could see it without his spectacles. They were brave. They stayed brave through all the bloodshed of the coming years. Their courage created a nation built on a universal claim to human dignity, on the proposition that every man, woman, and child had a right to a future of freedom.
For just a moment, let us listen to the words again: “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.” Last night when we rededicated Miss Liberty and relit her torch, we reflected on all the millions who came here in search of the dream of freedom inaugurated in Independence Hall. We reflected, too, on their courage in coming great distances and settling in a foreign land and then passing on to their children and their children’s children the hope symbolized in this statue here just behind us: the hope that is America. It is a hope that someday every people and every nation of the world will know the blessings of liberty.
And it’s the hope of millions all around the world. In the last few years, I’ve spoken at Westminster to the mother of Parliaments; at Versailles, where French kings and world leaders have made war and peace. I’ve been to the Vatican in Rome, the Imperial Palace in Japan, and the ancient city of Beijing. I’ve seen the beaches of Normandy and stood again with those boys of Pointe du Hoc, who long ago scaled the heights, and with, at that time, Lisa Zanatta Henn, who was at Omaha Beach for the father she loved, the father who had once dreamed of seeing again the place where he and so many brave others had landed on D-day. But he had died before he could make that trip, and she made it for him. “And, Dad,” she had said, “I’ll always be proud.”
And I’ve seen the successors to these brave men, the young Americans in uniform all over the world, young Americans like you here tonight who man the mighty U.S.S. Kennedy and the Iowa and other ships of the line. I can assure you, you out there who are listening, that these young are like their fathers and their grandfathers, just as willing, just as brave. And we can be just as proud. But our prayer tonight is that the call for their courage will never come. And that it’s important for us, too, to be brave; not so much the bravery of the battlefield, I mean the bravery of brotherhood.
All through our history, our Presidents and leaders have spoken of national unity and warned us that the real obstacle to moving forward the boundaries of freedom, the only permanent danger to the hope that is America, comes from within. It’s easy enough to dismiss this as a kind of familiar exhortation. Yet the truth is that even two of our greatest Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, once learned this lesson late in life. They’d worked so closely together in Philadelphia for independence. But once that was gained and a government was formed, something called partisan politics began to get in the way. After a bitter and divisive campaign, Jefferson defeated Adams for the Presidency in 1800. And the night before Jefferson’s inauguration, Adams slipped away to Boston, disappointed, brokenhearted, and bitter.
For years their estrangement lasted. But then when both had retired, Jefferson at 68 to Monticello and Adams at 76 to Quincy, they began through their letters to speak again to each other. Letters that discussed almost every conceivable subject: gardening, horseback riding, even sneezing as a cure for hiccups; but other subjects as well: the loss of loved ones, the mystery of grief and sorrow, the importance of religion, and of course the last thoughts, the final hopes of two old men, two great patriarchs, for the country that they had helped to found and loved so deeply. “It carries me back,” Jefferson wrote about correspondence with his cosigner of the Declaration of Independence, “to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right to self-government. Laboring always at the same oar, with some wave ever ahead threatening to overwhelm us and yet passing harmless . . . we rowed through the storm with heart and hand . . . .” It was their last gift to us, this lesson in brotherhood, in tolerance for each other, this insight into America’s strength as a nation. And when both died on the same day within hours of each other, that date was July 4th, 50 years exactly after that first gift to us, the Declaration of Independence. Read the rest of this entry »
On ‘The Kelly File,’ the CEO discusses his upbringing, strategies for building a successful company.
“Success is one of the worst enemies of success, because it tends to breed complacency & lack of humility.”
“I’ve had the philosophy that John Adams expressed… That this is a system for moral people, it will work for no other.”
“If you never fail, then you’re probably not doing very much.”
“I want the power to go back to people making decisions over their own lives, rather than some experts making it.”
“We should always remember that a free Constitution of civil Government cannot be purchased at too dear a Rate; as there is nothing, on this Side the New Jerusalem of equal importance to Mankind.”
–John Adams, 1776
For americasfuture.org, Christian Corrigan writes: In the midst of commemorating our Nation’s birthday with fireworks and fellowship, many overlook the magnitude and uncertainty of the muggy days of early July 1776 in Philadelphia that fundamentally altered the course of human history.
“One can only imagine the fear, anxiety, and pressure that shrouded the delegates as the vote approached on the morning of July 2…”
Six months earlier, Thomas Paine had captivated the colonies with his powerful pamphlet Common Sense, assuring the colonists that independence was their natural right and calling them to arms. But despite the growing fervor of their constituents in favor of separation, the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were skeptical about the prospects of actually winning independence from the Crown. Read the rest of this entry »
1. On July 4, 1776, the United States declared itself an independent nation.
This is almost true, but the timing is a tad off. According to the historical record, we should be celebrating Independence Day on July 2, the day Congress finally approved the motion made by Richard Henry Lee on June 7: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”[i]
The following day, July 3, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that 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 illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.[ii]
Adams certainly got the spirit right, even if the date he proffered turned out to be wrong. How was he to know that even the most patriotic Americans would fail to recognize the true anniversary of independence? On July 4, the second day after it declared the United States to be an independent nation, Congress approved a document that explained its reasons. As so often happens in history, representation of the event would have more staying power than the event itself.
2. Congress initiated the move toward independence.
Historian Pauline Maier has uncovered 90 sets of instructions by state and local bodies, each telling its representatives in higher bodies (ultimately, the Continental Congress) to declare independence. Several of these documents, written in the three months preceding Congress’s vote for independence, listed the same complaints and expressed the same principles that the Congressional Declaration of Independence eventually did.[iii]
[Check out Ray Raphael‘s book Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past at Amazon.com]
Earlier yet, on October 4, 1774, the town of Worcester instructed its delegate to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress “to exert yourself in devising ways and means to raise from the dissolution of the old constitution, as from the ashes of the Phenix, a new form, wherein all officers shall be dependent on the suffrages of the people, whatever unfavorable constructions our enemies may put upon such procedure.”[iv] This was indeed a declaration for independence. The new government would be formed without seeking the consent of existing British authorities, and since it would be based exclusively on the “suffrages of the people,” there could be no place for monarchical prerogatives, as there had been under British rule. Read the rest of this entry »
This Day in History : Library of Congress Established April 24th, 1800, by President John Adams for $5000Posted: April 24, 2014
President John Adams approves legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thus establishing the Library of Congress. The first books, ordered from London, arrived in 1801 and were stored in the U.S. Capitol, the library’s first home. The first library catalog, dated April 1802, listed 964 volumes and nine maps. Twelve years later, the British army invaded the city of Washington and burned the Capitol, including the then 3,000-volume Library of Congress.
Former president Thomas Jefferson, who advocated the expansion of the library during his two terms in office, responded to the loss by selling his personal library, the largest and finest in the country, to Congress to “recommence” the library. The purchase of Jefferson’s 6,487 volumes was approved in the next year, and a professional librarian, George Watterston, was hired to replace the House clerks in the administration of the library. In 1851, a second major fire at the library destroyed about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the Thomas Jefferson library. Congress responded quickly and generously to the disaster, and within a few years a majority of the lost books were replaced. Read the rest of this entry »
The U.S. media treat America’s powerful families as untitled nobility
For National Review Online, Charles C. W. Cooke writes: Depressing as it might be for the radicals among us to admit, John Adams’s failed and embarrassing quest to have the nation’s president referred to as “His Majesty” or “His High Mightiness” was the exception rather than the rule — an early win for republicanism before the inevitable losses started stacking up. Time after time during the last century or so, the White House has suggested that it should perhaps accrue a little more power, perhaps spend a little more money on itself, and perhaps place the administration a little closer to the center of public life. In each and every instance, the public has acquiesced. Alas, this is not Calvin Coolidge’s country anymore. Where once the president fretted over the cost of pencils and the expense of state dinners, he now has a fleet of aircraft, a billion-dollar household budget, and a trio of calligraphers. “His Majesty,” indeed.
In the abstract, at least, Americans prefer to think of themselves as being congenitally opposed to aristocracy and the trappings of monarchy. The notion of unceremonious men who rise from the log cabin to the White House has considerable purchase in the national imagination, and, during elections, at least, it still matters considerably. Read the rest of this entry »
Greg Pollowitz notes: I’m not sure this is the type of review Chris Matthews was hoping for from the Times of his new book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. “It’s a nice idea for a book, if only it were true”:
“Ever since our national politics dissolved into a miasma of polarization and strident punditry — which means either the Clinton pseudoscandals or the John Adams administration, depending on your historical reference point — Washington pontificators have waxed wistful for gentler times. In the glow of nostalgia, even ideologues and scoundrels come to resemble civic-minded statesmen who put aside partisanship to broker compromises.
This romantic tendency usually makes for bad history. A few good books have mined the vein — including last year’s overlooked “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis,” by Ira Shapiro, a former Senate aide — but Chris Matthews’s “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked” isn’t one of them. A former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and aide to the House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (one of his subjects here), Matthews is best known today as an MSNBC talking head — snarling head, some might say — a kind of Democratic Pat Buchanan giving voice to the resentments of the disgruntled middle class. For those familiar with his brand of confidently asserted overgeneralization, the book is about what you would expect.