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The day that nothing happened - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
The day that nothing happened
Why July 4?

For the non-Americans on my f-list who probably haven't had it drilled into their heads from the beginning of school, July 4 is the nominal anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (In fact, the Declaration was signed over a period of months, and passed on July 2, but I'm going to skip that for the moment, because the date matters less than what is being commemorated on it. The exact date doesn't matter much more than the fact that the battle of Bunker Hill was fought on Breed's Hill.) Life before the Declaration and life after it went on more or less as usual--it was a point some fourteen months into the war proper, several years before the end. Very little changed... except that everything changed.

There are a lot of other dates that we could have chosen for a national "birthday."

The so-called Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, was a propganda generating watershed, and the trial a genuine watershed--defended by patriot John Adams, the British soldiers accused of a massacre against a rowdy mob throwing rocks and oyster shells at them were acquitted. Whether the jury was packed with conservatives (as some historians attest) or not is irrelevant--the notion that it was more important to acquit them when a conviction would have been unfair than to show colonial strength by sentencing them to death was a vitally important moment in American history. But it's not even a local holiday.

The Shot Heard Round the World, fired at Lexington Green on April 18, 1775, is another good choice for a national birthday. It was the first shot of open warfare between the British and the colonies, as the soldiers marched toward the arsenal in Concord. It's the occasion of Paul Revere's famous ride. It marked the beginning of the war... in Massachusetts. It obviously didn't begin things everywhere. More than a year later, there was debate in the Continental Congress about whether or not we were at war. (In a great line from the musical 1776, John Adams laments of the Congress, "Fat George has declared us in Rebellion--why in bloody hell can't they?") I had to look up the date. April 18 generally passes with no recognition of any significant occurrence.

At the other end of the war, the surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, would be an obvious choice for a national birthday--Cornwallis, trapped between the American Army and the French Navy, surrendered. It didn't end the war, but it was the last significant battle, and it brought the British to the bargaining table. I had to look up that date as well. And I'd completely forgotten that it wasn't the end of the war. (What can I say, the mnemonic in my head is from Schoolhouse Rock.)

The actual end of the war was the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on September 3, 1782 and ratified on April 17, 1783. Needless to say, since I didn't remember that this was the end of the war, it's not a date that sticks. (Given that April 18 was Lexington and April 17 was the Treaty of Paris, you'd think we'd have something other than tax day in the week of the April-teenths! But we don't.)

Any of those days would make more logical sense. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence... what did it do, really?

The DoI set out what it meant to be American, gave us through a unanimous vote an identity as a nation, separate from our mother country and worthy of recognition. The Declaration of Independence was the historical moment when we became Americans. There was conflict before then and conflict after, but at that moment, we pledged ourselves to the idea of being a nation, and to what that nation should believe in. ("We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...") That we've repeatedly fallen short of these beliefs goes without saying, but we recognize them as right and true, and judge ourselves by them.

So I'm glad that it's this, and not a military victory or military initiation that's celebrated as our national holiday.

G-d Bless America.

Peace out.

I feel a bit...: satisfied patriotic
Soundtrack: 1776 Soundtrack

14 comments or Leave a comment
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: July 4th, 2004 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is the anniversary of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (both on the same day)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 4th, 2004 08:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
True... one of the creepier coincidences in history! Adams's last words, I think, were "Jefferson still lives" (he was wrong).
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: July 4th, 2004 09:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Envious to the end.
And Jefferson's last words were "Is it the fourth?" making sure he held on until the notable day.

Ah, the boys...
I was watching 1776 today with gnomi and mabfan (and xiphias, of course) and I forget who made what comment to provoke the thought, but I suddenly shuddered and said "1776-slash? I don't even want to go there!"
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 4th, 2004 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
You realize I'm not going to have to go to FFN and see if the fangirls have discovered it yet. Ben/Tom: OTP!!!!11!
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: July 4th, 2004 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
But I burn, Mister A!

[Actually, I think it was a line during the final debate that led to that remark. "I know what you want me to do, but I'm not sure I can..."]

With the possible exception of John Adams, most of the Founding Fathers were lecherous old goats anyway... And Adams and Franklin did canonically share a bed while travelling together (they disagreed over whether the window should be left open or closed).

"No father, brother, son, or friend ever had cause of grief or resentment for any intercourse between me and any daughter, sister, mother, or any other relation with the female sex. My children may be assured that no illegitimate brother exists or ever existed."
-- John Adams
You ever wonder *why* he needed to protest so much? Look who he was surrounded with. 8)
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: July 4th, 2004 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
BTW, one of the fangeeky cool things about John Adams that makes me grin was his visit to England. He and Jefferson went to Shakespeare's birthplace, which included W.S.'s actual chair (*snort*, yeah right!). One of them distracted the tourguide while the other one whittled away a couple chips for them to take home as souveniers. [A common practice, which is yet another reason it was probably a replacement chair.]

Also, when visiting a historical site, John Adams didn't think some of the locals truly appreciated it, so took it upon himself to lecture them about the significance of that site. [I believe it was an English Civil War battlefield.]

I *like* John Adams, canya tell?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 4th, 2004 09:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I love Adams! Hands down, my favorite founding father. I've taken the Adams house tour three times, because I'm a fangeek, too. Just LUFF him.

Why, oh why, is there not a classic courtroom drama out there about the Boston Massacre trial? I'll have to write one, if I can be bothered to do the research...

And thanks for the fangeeky moment; I hadn't heard that one before.

I really think the old boys would dig the Internet. This would be Adamses element particularly. Who would know he was short and stout? And he could angst to his heart's content.

BTW, to my vast relief, no FFN fics from 1776. Yet.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: July 4th, 2004 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think if 1776 were fanficced, it would've happened when Brent Spiner played the lead.
sreya From: sreya Date: July 4th, 2004 11:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Fern! Glad you liked one of the icons! I was afraid that by putting them up mid-day, they'd never be used, and yet several people left comments that they were going to use an icon. :D Yay!

I was watching a documentary this afternoon (technically about Jefferson, but focused for the hour I watched on the Declaration) that said the July 2/4 issue is that the main clause of the final draft of the Declaration was accepted on July 2, and that on July 4 twelve of the thirteen colonies signed the document as a whole -- New York being the holdout for several more days. Don't know how accurate it is, TV docs tend to over-summarize, particularly with dates.

But there was an interesting point I remember being made -- I don't remember if it was quoting one of our founding fathers, or scholars, or who, but it stuck with me. The ideals put forward in the Declaration, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and "all men are created equal", are really quite impossible to achieve altogether, and yet part of what defines "American" is that we agree to ignore that these goals are impossible, and we still strive them and attempt to live up to them in every way we can (even though we may disagree on the ways).

I liked that sentiment. By striving for the impossible, it's how we can achieve the improbable. And because we do hold these ideals as what we want for our nation, we're going to keep moving closer and closer to them, even if they are never perfectly attained.

Wow, 3am is probably not the best time for patriotic philosophizing. :)
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: July 5th, 2004 06:44 am (UTC) (Link)

Why are they mutually exclusive?

The ideals put forward in the Declaration, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and "all men are created equal", are really quite impossible to achieve altogether...

What a hollow and sad belief that all men (and women) are equal, but we can't all be alive, free and seeking what we see as best.

I will concede, especially today, that my freedom does depend on those who have been willing to fight and die for it.
sreya From: sreya Date: July 5th, 2004 08:32 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Why are they mutually exclusive?

I think the documentary was working from the angle that you can't really have freedom and perfect equality at the same time, because freedom includes the right to be "better" than someone else -- the only way to have "perfect equality" would be to take away the freedom to change your position/status in life, because everyone would have to be in the same position/status/class/rank, whatever.

Not sure if I agree entirely with the documentary's take on it, but I do know that when it comes down to legal rights, there are issues where two clashing rights just aren't treated equally, and can't be treated equally if a decision is ever reached -- you're going to have to choose one right over the other. Not to raise an issue button, but take abortion for instance -- the Supreme Court has taken the position that when weighing the rights of a woman and the rights of the unborn, the rights of the woman win out. That's not a judgment of equality, that's a weighted judgment based on a particular value system. If the concept was reversed, you'd still have an inequality between the the rights, because they'd still be under a weighted system, just a different one.

Then there's also the idea that "the pursuit of happiness" also can't be done in a free world, because often what we seek to be happy is going to make someone else unhappy -- again, that's an "unequal" system.

I could go on and on... but I don't think it's a hollow system. I think it's a realistic one to recognize that yeah, we're flawed and the system's not perfect, but still, as Americans, we don't care that it's probably beyond our reach -- we're still going to stretch for it.

Who knows -- someday we just may be able to achieve the impossible and prove them wrong. Impossible's been done before.
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: July 5th, 2004 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Fern. Whilst I knew the significance of July 4th, the rest of my American history is quite shaky so the remainder of your post was new information to me. From a British perspective, I envy you the Declaration of Independence. We have no extant formal reference for what it means to be British (let alone English) and I wonder if that contributes towards the ambivalence that a section of our population feel about their nationality. You've set me thinking about the contrast between patriotism in our two nations - I may post some more about this on my own journal later.
likeafox From: likeafox Date: July 5th, 2004 05:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Fern. Despite being an American myself, this was very informative. Probably all stuff I should remember from History class and School House Rock, but for some reason things stick better when I read them in LJ format. :P

So I'm glad that it's this, and not a military victory or military initiation that's celebrated as our national holiday.

(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 5th, 2004 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Glad to be of help. Happy fourth (late)!
14 comments or Leave a comment