July 4th, 2002

July 4th! What a day! It impresses me so much I’m back blogging again after a few month respite, in inattention. For me and I suspect millions of other Americans, the day is a symbolic apogee of the year. Forget the official days that start the seasons June 21 (my wedding anniversary) and December 21, for me the high swings of the yearly clock are July 4th and December 25. One hot and explosive and another cold and contemplative. Not a bad way to measure time if you ask me.

This year’s observations included a symphony pops concert and fireworks Saturday night, a pool party Sunday evening after church, and a cookout with some friends in northern North Carolina on Independence Day itself. A wonderful, happy time for all, full of conversation, rest from work and community.

In recent days, in theme with the holiday’s demand to revisit the founding fathers, I read this wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal about Declaration signer, Presbyterian pastor and President of Princeton, John Witherspoon (1723–1794).

Witherspoon was a teacher of many of the Founding Fathers, active on over 100 committees in the Continental Congress and acted with expertise in a variety of fields besides his native theology, including his insistence that the new United States have free market economic underpinnings. His retort in Congress to the thought that the 13 colonies may not be ready for independence?

“In my judgement the country is not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of becoming rotten for the want of it.”

He was eager for independence and fervent to spread his faith. Read about him if you get the chance.

The national observation of Independence Day in 2006 is a bit different from the solemn remembrances, feasts and eager actions of the Rev. Witherspoon. In lots of ways, Independence Day celebrations as we know them are the creation of former Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, who linked July 4th with symphony Pops concerts, increasingly massive fireworks displays and the 1812 Overture, an odd combination were it not for Fiedler‘s marketing genius.

One of the best July 4th’s I’ve spent was when I was dating my wife and while she was visiting relatives in Massachusetts, we toured Boston and enjoyed the Pops concert and fireworks by the Charles river on the 4th of 2002. The spectacle combined with the apprehension of living post 9/11 linked with the history of Boston flashed in my mind as one of great events of my youth. I am in the center, approximately, of the picture above.

It’s a day of joy, and I hope for myself not one that slips into excessive sentimentality, but the day’s continuity, year after year, allows you to slip into a fog of history, hopefully to anchor you for the future as a nation and community.

The picture at left is of the legislative chamber in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, set up for how it looked when the Constitution was debated 11 years after the Declaration was signed.

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