Half a century ago the philosopher Leo Strauss remarked that the passage in which the Declaration of Independence proclaims its self-evident truths “has frequently been quoted, but, by its weight and its elevation, it is made immune to the degrading effects of the excessive familiarity which breeds contempt and of misuse which breeds disgust.”
I’ve had occasion to test this claim. The last few years, we’ve spent July Fourth at the house of friends who have had the assembled company read the entire declaration. It’s a longer document than one thinks; the charges against the king take quite a while to get through.
But I can report from firsthand experience that the declaration as a whole, and not just its most famous phrases, remains remarkably immune to the degrading effects of excessive familiarity. I was doubtful at first that reading the declaration would enhance the overall beer-and-hamburger experience of the day. But the effort has proved more thought-provoking and patriotism-stirring than I expected.
So this year, perhaps pressing our luck (and patience), I’m thinking of proposing the reading of an additional text: Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Roger Weightman of June 24, 1826.
One of the great July 4th speeches was delivered by a shy man who played baseball for a living. Lou Gehrig played every day, never took a game off, until he was told, at age 35, that he was dying. More than 60,000 fans and former teammates came out to Yankee Stadium to honor him. Between the two games of the doubleheader, he came out of the Yankee’s dugout and stood, listening as former teammates spoke into the microphones that had been set up behind home plate. He was embarrassed enough by their words that he teared up.
For the last couple years, the boss has recommended a few important speeches on and about July 4 from Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Lou Gehrig. All are worth revisiting, but earning special mention this year is Gehrig's July 4 farewell speech at Yankee Stadium. On this day 75 years ago, the first basemen retired from the game he loved in front of the fans who loved him.
At a pre-Independence Day naturalization ceremony at the Treasury Department Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew used about one-third of his address to a roomful of newly sworn-in citizens to criticize the America’s immigration system and plug the current immigration legislation. According to prepared remarks, he told these newest Americans that "too many immigrants do not get a fair shot at the American dream.
The hot dog is in decline in America, writes Paul Lukas at Bloomberg, and one thinks, "What isn't?" What institution, anyway. If everything were not in decline, then what would there be for journalists to write about (see Andrew Ferguson on George Packer and Haynes Johnson) and what would politicians have to campaign about?
On this 4th of July, I presume that TWS readers are soberly re-reading their Jefferson and carefully studying their Lincoln. But this shouldn't be a day of too much solemnity. So here's a stirring cinematic moment to revisit, from the 1996 hit Independence Day, and enjoy:
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress declared independence. George Washington declared that day that “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves....The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.” A useful reminder for us, in a week when we rightly celebrate a Declaration, a document embodying a great idea, that speech needs to be backed up by arms, and that all still depends on the "courage and conduct" of our armed forces.
It was perhaps inevitable that our Fourth of July celebrations last week might have seemed anti-climactic after the four-day festivities a month ago accompanying the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Fireworks, however spectacular, cannot compare with the thousand-boat flotilla on the Thames cheered on by masses of river-side spectators (shivering and soaking in torrential rain) or the horse-drawn carriage procession (again, the streets lined with people) from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace, the Queen regally bedecked and costumed.
Speaker of the House John Boehner's Fourth of July tribute to the Declaration of Independence:
“If you’re like me, when you enter the Capitol Rotunda, your eyes are drawn to Trumbull’s depiction of the Declaration of Independence. And why not? It’s humbling to stop and think about how it all began.