by KI Thompson
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. 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 and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”
John Adams in a letter to Abigail, July 3, 1776
Well, Adams got it half right. But you can’t really fault him on his dates. The Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of Independence on July 2, 1776. Adams was understandably thrilled by the decision and wrote Abigail the next day. But Congress subsequently examined the document prepared by a committee of five: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. After much debate and revision they finally approved the Declaration of Independence two days later on July 4, 1776, the date that would become our nation’s birthday.
The significance of that historic moment, the first time mankind determined they could govern themselves independent of a monarchy, continues to leave an indelible impression upon me even now. What a risk Americans took, pledging their land, their homes, even their lives all for the sake of freedom. And against the mightiest power on earth no less. What an amazing feat.
That first July 4th will forever be the most memorable date for Americans, but there are other memorable Independence Day celebrations as well:
1826 – the “Jubilee of Freedom” celebrating 50 years of independence was made bittersweet by the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on the same day;
1848 – the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington
Monument (Dolly Madison was present);
1863 – Gettysburg and Vicksburg become critical victories for the Union (the town of Vicksburg would not celebrate the 4th again for 82 years);
1930 – George Washington’s face is unveiled at Mount Rushmore;
1960 – the star spangled banner waves with 50 stars as Hawaii achieves statehood;
In 2011, not only do we celebrate the two hundred and thirty-fifth anniversary of this event we also commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War; a cataclysmic time in our country’s history resulting in the preservation of that which our founding fathers and mothers sacrificed so much to achieve. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Little did he know how profound and prescient his words would turn out to be. From the Emancipation Proclamation, to the women’s movement and Stonewall, we continue our struggle for freedom from oppression and equal protections under the law.
Even writing about this now I get chills. History has always been that way for me; not a dusty tome to be brushed off on rare occasions but a living, breathing thing, never static but constantly in motion. That’s why I love to write books that deal with historical events and their impact on my characters. My first book, House of Clouds, provided that outlet, juxtaposing the passion of two women with the upheaval of the Civil War.
As I research and write my latest novel, The Will to Wynne, set during the final
stages of the American Revolution, I am keenly aware of the role history plays
as its own character. I struggle in my efforts not to bore the reader with too much history or allow the history to overpower the story or protagonists. But as I write, I still marvel at the meaning of the 4th of July, Independence Day, or as Adams would have it, “the Day of Deliverance.” Whether it’s 1776, 1863, or today, I love placing characters in times of historic struggle to tell the story from their point of view. I only wish I could experience it as my characters have. Now that would be a 4th worth remembering.