July 3rd, 1776.
Yesterday the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated 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.” You will see in a few days a declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days…
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.
A letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail Adams. You can put it on your shelf — My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams.
Throughout the next day, I’m enrolling myself (as I think we all should) in a self-taught crash-course in the history of American liberty, beginning with King George III’s Proclamation Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, then the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, The Declaration, and The Constitution. Part two will orbit other figures: George Washington, Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Samuel Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglass, Anna Howard Shaw, Theodore Roosevelt, Jack Kerouac, George Washington Carver, Sam Houston, Ronald Reagan, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others.
I think of these as the champions of our great American tradition of individual liberty, moral courage, opportunity — not the commercialized, commoditized, flag-waving, beer-chugging junk that to so many Americans now represents our Independence Day.
This is the best of our proud tradition, and it’s the material we need to ventilate and reflect upon now, perhaps, more than ever. I’m going to be posting the best of it here throughout the next day, so stay tuned.
Read another letter from Adams: