Happy Fourth

July 2 – Letter from John Adams to Abigail.

Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was decided in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent states, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things which other States may rightfully do.” . . .

. . . Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven that the Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least it wil inspire Us with many virtues, which We have not, and correct more Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us.–The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Government we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great.–I am not without Apprehensions from this quarter. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.

He continues to describe how they came to this conclusion:

Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their Judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.–This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six months ago.

So, implicit in our nation’s birth was a sense of not only man’s flaws but his virtues. We may be subject to corruption & venality, but we are rational beings that, if given time & a cause, can come to rational conclusions through the open marketplace of ideas. And he concludes:

Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in the Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Today, A&L, too, looks at the Fourth; one link is to Claremont, where Christopher Flannery discusses Adams’ friend & foe, Jefferson, noting his assumption:

Human nature or human equality—the fact that human beings are neither angels nor mindless brutes—gives rise to the idea of constitutional or limited government. This is a political constitution that conforms to the natural constitution of man. Because human beings are fallible and because their reason is subject sometimes to their passions, human government must be subject to law.

1 thought on “Happy Fourth”

  1. I have often, probably much more often than they would prefer, expressed to my children the wonder I feel at our good fortune to have been born at this time, in the midwest of the US, to live a life which literally does not know or understand many of the terrors that have haunted the lives of our ancestors, terrors both natural and man made.

    My great grandparents came here from central and western Europe during the course of the 19th century. Grandma’s family settled in Chicago. They had fled Bohemia after the turmoil and repression of life in a tottering, autocratic empire became more frightening than the idea of traveling to an unknown place and starting over.

    Her father was a butcher. He worked for several years in the stockyards, saving his money until he could open his own butcher’s shop. She sometimes spoke of those times, mentioning how she would come home from school to help out, and how proud her father was that he was his own man, the owner of his own shop. It was Microsoft and General Motors combined for him.

    When they were able to lease the storefront next door and open a bakery for her mother, instead of selling from the butcher’s shop, the party lasted for days, her mother cried, and her father glowed, serving free beer and samples from both shops to customers and friends.

    Grandma said her father often spoke of the awe he felt that he had such success. He could never have had his own business, much less two shops, in the old country.

    My Grandfather’s family were farmers, his father Belgian, his mother Dutch, they fled after the war of 1870 to find a place where they could live in peace. My Grandpa was born in 1896 and lived to be almost 85. During his life, he saw the world go from steam engines and horses to men walking on the moon.

    My wife and I will be travelling tomorrow, a trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary. And on July 4th, it occurs to me all the things that we take so much for granted.

    We asked no one’s permission to travel, obtained no special documents except our passports, paid no bribes, never once worried about being questioned or held in some kind of suspicion because we were going to another country.

    Without even thinking about it, we exercised several of the rights we just have as Americans, going about our business, making our plans, booking tickets, making reservations. It never even occurs to us that some official might question, or try to stop us.

    We live in the country that invented the statement, “Why should they care? It’s nobody’s business but ours what we do.”

    Until one can actually realize what an extraordinary statement that is, how unusual it would have been in any other place or time on this earth, if it was possible to think or say such a thing at all, one cannot grasp the sheer human joy of living in freedom, the rarity of it, the priviledge of receiving a gift beyond price, indeed, beyond comprehension.

    Happy Independence Day to all.

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