I've always wondered how we might have celebrated Independence Day if it had fallen on the Fourth of February. But summer it is, and good, because summer liberates the spirit like no other season. We ride waves from sea to shining sea, light barbecue grills across the land where the deer and the antelope play, and luxuriate in the balmy nights of midsummer, fireworks lighting the starry skies of America the beautiful.
Since I was born and raised in the nation's capital, the Fourth of July always seemed like our own holiday, a celebration for our hometown. My mother told of her parents taking everyone down to the National Mall, lifting the backseats out of the car to make a soft place to lie to watch the sky brighten with the rockets' red glare. One year, I joined friends on a sail down the Potomac beneath strikes of vivid light playing colors across the memorials to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
The Fourth of July appeals to a different kind of America than Thanksgiving, that chilly November celebration that evolved from those first desperate days when our forefathers stepped onto Plymouth Rock seeking freedom in the New World. What the early Pilgrims cherished, our Founding Fathers fought to maintain. Both holidays have prospered over the uneven course of human events, sustained by the faith of our fathers in the ideal that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Both holidays show how the spiritual and political freedoms are intertwined, inseparable and inviolate.
The first settlers were determined to worship as they wished and celebrated with gratitude with that first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Only a 155 years later, prosperous lawyers, planters, farmers, merchants and politicians, driven by the yearning to make a new kind of government on an untamed continent, declared their independence from the old, the tired and the fearful.
Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence embodied the power and the paradox of the new nation, as both patriot and slave owner, idealist and pragmatist, a greater master of prose than master of himself. He was, as Gary Wills describes him, "elitist in his practice, egalitarian by principle."
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