The one mistake in Adams’ view of the future involved his assumption that future generations would celebrate the Second of July (the date of the adoption of the resolution for Independence) rather than the Fourth of July (the date Congress approved the specific wording of the Declaration which Adams had helped his friend Thomas Jefferson to write.
In any event, those who insist on dismissing or denying the nation’s deeply religious heritage should ponder the words of this “Atlas of Independence.” Adams expects that we will celebrate the nation’s founding through “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty” (don’t tell the ACLU!). After bitter, exhausting political battles in Philadelphia (corresponding to simultaneous -- disastrous -- military battles conducted by Washington’s army in New York) he recognized the role of Providence in the ongoing struggle and, at a moment of exultation, proved himself not just a far-seeing leader, but a prophet.
In a prior letter to Abigail (in 1775), Adams went even further in emphasizing the association of patriotism and religiosity – a connection maintained with interruption from his time to our own. “Statesmen may plan and speculate for liberty, but is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand,” he wrote. “A patriot must be a religious man.”
With his words in mind, it makes sense for so many churches to sponsor special July 4th programs, and to emphasize the always appropriate messages of “God bless America” and “America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” The last verse of “The Star Spangled Banner” contains the lines – “And triumph we must/As our cause it is just/And this may our motto/”In God is our trust.”
May we observe our nation’s founding in the spirit of our founders – combining celebration with solemnity, and expressing our devotion to God and to country.
Happy Independence Day!