Friday, July 4, 2014

The 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July! As I sit here, contemplating the holiday, I can't help but think about teaching American Literature. Every year, I get to re-live the founding of our nation when I teach early American literature with the Puritans and then move into the age of Rationalism and the founding documents. I get to read and re-read The Declaration of Independence (I even make the AP kids diagram the first sentence of the document-- for you English nerds out there-- it's a doozy, but it's totally worth it!), recite Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention, and delve into Thomas Paine's works.

After considering all of these works- documents, speeches, pamphlets- I can't help but think that people forget what this day is really about. It's interesting, because as I scroll through Facebook, I notice that many people post about soldiers and remembering them today. I do suppose you could argue that today we remember those first soldiers who fought for our ultimate freedom, our independence from the British. Just thinking about the odds that we had stacked against us- lack of real training, or really, of any true military; little monetary funding; few resources- really, we should have lost. This rag-tag group of men banding against the greatest military in the world. The underdog. Maybe that's why America loves an underdog story because we were founded on the underdog. 

All this said, today, we don't really celebrate soldiers. We have holidays for that-- Memorial Day, Veteran's Day. Today is for celebrating a document that called for our independence. Aired our grievances. Looked the King in the eye and said, simply, "no more". The Declaration of Independence, when studied closely, is a truly fascinating document. Take a look at the first sentence: 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

It's beautiful. It's absolutely a work of beauty. It could say, "we are breaking away from you and here is why" because that is the basis of what Jefferson does in this document. He lists the causes of separation. But this first sentence does so much more than that. It says that we, as a nation, are entitled to our rights in accordance with the laws of Nature and of God. Of God. Each word was chosen with such precision and craftsmanship. It is truly beautiful.

This is why we celebrate today. We celebrate the words and the actions of the Founding Fathers. We celebrate the passion of Patrick Henry. The dedication of George Washington. The conviction of Thomas Paine. We remember that our nation rose from the humblest of beginnings, and was founded by people who all journeyed here for vastly different reasons. Yes, these men, these people, were flawed. There is no picture of perfection in the backgrounds of any of these individuals. And, I believe, that is important to remember. We come from what is real, what is passion, what is grit. 

So, today, pause and remember that founding document. Read a line or two. Remember the first of us who bravely trekked to this land for freedom, money, a new start. Remember all of this on the Fourth.

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