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Independence Day and gunpowder are forever linked

Because I still have a strong English accent, Independence Day tends to come with a host of good-natured jokes at my expense. “Weren’t you fired?” my friends like to ask. Others invite me to “address my condolences to the queen” or ask, sardonically: “Tell me: do you support the colonists or George III?

Of course, as those who tease me know, I support the settlers. And I’m not just rooting for them then. I encourage them now too. What do I mean by that? I mean to properly appreciate the 4th of July is to understand that it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1776. I mean by celebrating it the way we do, we’re recommitting to abide by a set of practical principles that transcend time, place, and, yes, even my remarkably odd way of pronouncing “tomato.”

I mean there’s a good reason the underdogs in places as far apart as Ukraine and Taiwan turn to the immortal Thomas Jefferson Declaration of Independenceand that good reason, if I may quote Abraham Lincoln, is that “under the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by one people,” Jefferson “had the coolness, the foresight, and the ability to introduce in a simply revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all days to come, it will be a reproach and a stone stumbling block for the very harbingers of resurgent tyranny and oppression.

The French Charleville musket was a staple of American efforts to shake off the yoke of British oppression. It found such favor in America that in 1795 the first American musket made at the legendary Springfield Armory was a copy of this French musket.

Every 4th of July we hear Jefferson’s famous phrases – “when in the course of human events”; “We take these truths for granted;” “endowed by its Creator with certain inalienable rights”; “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” – and we remember the ideals upon which this nation was explicitly founded. And then, once they’ve been read, you hear the sound of gunpowder, and you remember what gave those ideals bite. It is all very well to insist on the principle “that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to modify or abolish it”. It’s quite another to actually do that. American settlers did this – at great risk and expense – and in doing so they set an example to the world. Many died. Many were injured. No one knew how the attempt would end.

In a remarkable letter to his wife, Abigail, John Adams expressed his hope that America’s Independence Day would be “celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival.” Over the years, we have come to understand this aspiration primarily as a call to renew our commitment to our ideals. And, of course, that’s it. But this “it”, Adams thought, “should be celebrated with Pomp and Parade with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations”. It wasn’t just an abstraction to him; rather, it served as both Memorial Day and the Veterans Day of its day – as a solemn moment of unity in which Americans could reflect on the great sacrifices that had been made by the motley group of musket-wielding volunteers who had managed to win. against the mighty British Empire.

Today we know who won the war. At the time, however, many Americans simply assumed they were signing their death warrants. When reading the Declaration of Independence, plump Benjamin Harrison of Virginia said to slim Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hanged for what we are doing now.” Because of the size and weight of my body, I will die in a few minutes, but because of the lightness of your body, you will be dancing in the air for an hour or two before you die.

Now that’s funny. This was not always the case.

And yet they did it anyway. Meditating on the nature of the United States, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “France was a land, England was a people, but America, still having this quality of idea, was more difficult to express – it was the graves at Shiloh and the weary, drawn, nervous faces of its great men, and the country boys dying in the Argonne for a sentence that was empty before their bodies withered. from the heart.” The key word here is “will” – the will to appreciate what we have, the will to understand why we have it, the will to maintain it in its purest form.

Independence Day Celebration

After all, the founding generation did not have to rebel. Indeed, compared to the absolute tyrannies of the 20th century, the regime they lived under was pretty good, all things considered. They were relatively wealthy, they lived in relative peace, and they were less tightly governed than the British in Britain. But, while things may have been “good,” they weren’t good enough, and, for those seeking freedom, that matters. New Hampshire’s first Constitution, ratified in 1784, stated that “the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, servile, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” It’s true or it’s not, and if it is – and I firmly believe it is – then there can be no time when it makes sense for a free people to give up to his freedoms.

Nearly a century ago, President Calvin Coolidge observed that ” Statement, there is an extremely restful finality. “It is often asserted,” he continued, “that the world has come a long way since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great lead over the people of those days, and that we can therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. Coolidge dismissed this idea in its entirety, explaining instead that “[i]If all men are created equal, it is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, it is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, it is final. No progress, no progress can be made beyond these proposals.

The same must be said of the right to possess and bear arms, which has been inseparable from American freedom since the beginning. George Orwell noted “the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism”, observing that “times when the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to manufacture will tend to be times of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, ordinary people have a chance. Among other things, the 4th of July serves as a commemoration of exactly that, marking for posterity one of the most famous examples in all of human history of ordinary people having “a chance.” Independence Day is not the celebration of a king or a queen, or a president or a legislator, or a glorious foreign tangle, or even a particular place. It is the affirmation of an idea.

The symbols of the Fourth are suitably everyday. They are the Concord Minuteman, with his musket; the backyard barbecue, full of burgers and dogs; the ice bucket of beer, glistening in the July sun; the procession of the small towns; the midday baseball game; and, of course, Old Glory, floating outside every house. The day is strong, as it is fitting to celebrate our most deafening national moment: the gunshot that was “heard around the world.” We wake up to parades. We pass the afternoon with deafening music from all corners. We fall asleep to the sound of fireworks. In more traditional areas, we might pierce the calm of the day with fife and drums; in less formal contexts we get the same job with rock and roll. But either way, the message is the same: “It was our time. Now remember!

girl waving the flagI have lived all my life with the United States of America as a fact in the world, like the oceans or the seasons or the night. But America hasn’t always been there, and there was no guarantee that it ever would be. Even now, nearly 250 years after the founding, America remains different from anywhere else. America shares a continent with Canada, but it is not Canada. America shares a history with Britain, but it is not Britain. America has been populated by people from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, but it is neither Europe, nor Africa, nor Asia, nor America from South. Something magical happened in this country at the end of the 18th century, something unique and unusual and, perhaps, providential. The result would have been satisfactory to Goldilocks: Dissatisfied with the status quo, Americans staged a revolution that avoided fanaticism; they became innovators who drew heavily on the past; they showed a respect for the individual who refused to sink into licentiousness; and, fortunately for those who came later, they had the foresight to write it all down.

In presenting the United States Bill of Rights to Congress in 1789, James Madison proposed that one of the chief virtues of his list would be to ensure that the liberties it protected would be “incorporated into national sentiment” and, therefore , that they would survive time. The 4th of July plays a similar role within our firmament. I was not born in this country, and yet, from an early age, I knew all the stories as evidence. I knew Paul Revere, the battles of Lexington and Concord, and the winter at Valley Forge. I knew the prose of Jefferson and the signature of John Hancock and the crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day. In an unusual twist of fate, the house I grew up in had been sold on July 4, 1776, and when I found the original title deed in a drawer, I remember thinking, it would be months before the people who wrote this document discovered this.

As I have noted elsewhere, it took me a while to understand the Second Amendment, but, once I did, its centrality to the American idea became clear. Tench Coxe’s assertions in the revolutionary era that “the powers of the sword are in the hands of the yeomanry of America from sixteen to sixty years old” and that “the militia of those free republics, authorized and accustomed to their weapons, compared to any possible army, must be formidable and irresistible” summarizes the nature of a free citizenship. Its following questions: “Who are the militiamen? Aren’t they ourselves? specified the consequences.

To say the least, this is not how people of other nations speak – or have ever spoken. Other nations don’t have millions of people flying “Don’t Tread On Me” flags. Other nations don’t have states with “Sic semper tyrannis” woven into their flags and “Liberty or Death” emblazoned on their license plates. Other nations are not built on the right to revolution. Other nations, as James Madison pointed out in the Federalist documents, “are afraid to trust armed people.” This is not the case with America, humanity’s first and last great hope.

On this Independence Day, as the fireworks explode in the sky, I will remember what they represent. I will delight in their light and warmth. And I will decide that as long as I am an American, this day will be to remember why the Minuteman is never without a musket at his side.