There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.
Harry S Truman
With appreciation to President Truman's oft-quoted reflection on history, this Independence Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on July 4th celebrations of the past. John Adams, in letters to his wife, describes the first Independence Day. Adams, seemingly always contrary, insisted that Independence Day should be celebrated on July 2, the day the Continental Congress voted to accept the Declaration of Independence. However, the celebrations were first celebrated on the 4th, the day the Declaration was signed, and it continues to be celebrated on that day.
James Madison's thoughts on Independence Day in 1815, occurring just months after the second war with Great Britain and with the nation's capital in ruins, aren't available. However, a few other reflections on that day in our history are provided below. A July 1865 editorial in Harper's Weekly clearly shows the renewed belief in America two months following the Civil War. President Truman's thanksgiving for the victory in Europe and cautious optimism for a victory in Japan are evident in his July 4th speech in 1945.
However, the 4th hasn't always been a cause for celebration. In 1941, just a few months before Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt forewarned Americans that they would never be so lucky as to be left out of the war that was wreaking havoc in Europe.
One of the characteristics of a great speech is that it remains great for many generations. July 4th gives us the opportunity to reflect on independence, just as our ancestors have since 1776.
Once more the flag of the United States floats supreme over every inch of its rightful domain, from the pine hills of Maine to the palm shores of the Gulf, and from one ocean to the other. Four years ago it fell at Fort Sumter upon a startled people doubting if they were a nation. It rises again over the strongest nation upon the globe.
(Image credit: Peace -- "Fourth of July 1861" Harper's Weekly, July 8, 1861.)
The great national festival returns, and will be hailed as never before. Eloquence and song and solemn popular enthusiasm will consecrate the memorable day. The bells and the cannon of a continent will salute its happy sunrise and evening; and the universal public and private prayer of all true hearts will be, God bless and preserve the United States of America! (Source: archives.com)
President Harry S. Truman
July 4, 1945
Again this year we celebrate July 4 as the anniversary of the day one hundred and sixty-nine years ago on which we declared our independence as a sovereign people.
In this year of 1945, we have pride in the combined might of this nation which has contributed signally to the defeat of the enemy in Europe. We have confidence that, under Providence, we soon may crush the enemy in the Pacific. We have humility for the guidance that has been given us of God in serving His will as a leader of freedom for the world.
(Image credit: Harry S Truman, WhiteHouse.gov)
Here at home, on this July 4, 1945, let us honor our Nation's creed of liberty, and the men and women of our armed forces who are carrying this creed with them throughout the world. (Source: gurukul.american.edu/heintze/truman.htm)
Franklin D. Roosevelt
July 4, 1941
(WindingRiver.com note: With Europe and much of the world at war, Roosevelt forewarns the nation that America will not be able to "survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship." Five months later, America would indeed be embroiled in that great war.)
My fellow Americans:
In 1776, on the Fourth day of July, the representatives of the several States in Congress assembled, declaring our independence, asserted that a decent respect for the opinion of mankind required that they should declare the reasons for their action. In this new crisis, we have a like duty.
In 1776 we waged war in behalf of the great principle that government should derive its just powers from the consent of the governed. In other words, representation chosen in free election. In the century and a half that followed, this cause of human freedom swept across the world.
But now, in our generation in the past few years a new resistance, in the form of several new practices of tyranny, has been making such headway that the fundamentals of 1776 are being struck down abroad and definitely, they are threatened here.
It is, indeed, a fallacy, base on no logic at all, for any American to suggest that the rule of force can defeat human freedom in all the other parts of the world and permit it to survive in the United States alone. But it has been that childlike fantasy itself that misdirected faith which has led nation after nation to go about their peaceful tasks, relying on the thought, and even the promise, that they and their lives and their government would be allowed to live when the juggernaut of force came their way.
It is simple I could almost say simple-minded-for us Americans to wave the flag, to reassert our belief in the cause of freedom and to let it go at that.
Yet, all of us who lie awake at night all of us who study and study again know full well that in these days we cannot save freedom with pitchforks and muskets alone after a dictator combination has gained control of the rest of the world.
We know that we cannot save freedom in our own midst, in our own land, if all around us our neighbor nations have lost their freedom.
That is why we are engaged in a serious, in a mighty, in a unified action in the cause of the defense of the hemisphere and the freedom of the seas. We need not the loyalty and unity alone, we need speed and efficiency and toil and an end to backbiting, an end to the sabotage that runs far deeper than the blowing up of munitions plants.
I tell the American people solemnly that the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship.
And so it is that when we repeat the great pledge to our country and to our flag, it must be our deep conviction that we pledge as well our work, our will and, if it be necessary, our very lives.