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Memories, Borne on the Fourth of July

Most holidays are observed for the purpose of commemorating the past– its happenings and people– rather than occasioning a purely in-the-moment or prospective practice or event. (And even this latter sort of holiday, by its regular and repeated practice, likely would develop a retrospective aspect as the observation became ritualized and a tradition of active observamce built up. Sporting championships like Super Bowl Sunday or the World Series might be an example of this type of holiday.) “Commemoration,” what we do on most of our holidays, suggests an act of collective remembrance.* So stated, the practice of holiday observation has two aspects: remembering and acting. We remember the historical happenings that or people who merited designation of a special day and we do so through various acts of remembrance.

As applied to American Independence Day, observed on the fourth day of July due to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on that date in 1776, the holiday directs our collective remembrance to the distant and recent past in consideration of those responsible for American independence. First, we should actively recall those fifty-six men who, along with their families, acted boldly with conviction and suffered because of it:

Massachusetts
John Hancock
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry

New Hampshire
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Matthew Thornton

Rhode Island
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Connecticut
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

New York
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris

New Jersey
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Delaware
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas M’Kean

Maryland
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carrol

Virginia
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

North Carolina
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

South Carolina
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward
Thomas Lynch
Arthur Middleton

Georgia
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

Next, we should remember those throughout the nation’s history, including its very recent history, who served the country in a wide variety of capacities, especially those who, in service, gave the ultimate sacrifice.

As for the action component, I think fireworks, parades, and a celebratory mood with family and friends, perhaps along with a reading of names, should do just fine. Happy 234th, America!

* I am away from my books and dictionaries at the moment, so this etymological breakdown is a matter of uninformed impression. While I’m at it, I might hazard a guess on “holiday,” which could be from “holy day,” suggesting a day of special reverence. A noted aspect of most of our holidays today is that they are governmentally recognized. The “holy day” reading could be a throwback to times when the only state-recognized holidays would have been those in accordance with the official state religion. As a final note, I am recalling the possibly British use of “holiday” simply to mean “vacation” without any special significance.

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