A Wish for the 4th

american flag on iwo jima statue

Image: Amanda Stiver

Here’s to the 4th!

Living in the United States is a unique experience at this time in history. Daily I enjoy the bounty procured by generations, but as my nation moves away from the basic tenets of law, justice, and the duties and piety of citizenship, the future may hold unpleasant surprises. I say, savor freedom while it is ours.

As a child, the 4th of July was on my radar because of the cookouts, the fireworks, the firecrackers, and the patriotic music, but as I grow older, the meaning of the day supersedes the accoutrements.

The price

Our Declaration of Independence includes these words, “…Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…” Yet we live in an era, a half-century or so, of changing governments around the world. Some changes justified, others simply to satisfy the whims of a slim minority.

When the men who signed their defiance to the crown with the words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence [God, in our modern parlance], we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor,” they put their lives on the line. How many of us use such words anymore? Is it perhaps because our causes are not sacred, nor honorable?

John Adams, firebrand political figure, described his feelings about the Battle of Bunker Hill (a loss, but a gain in courage for the American forces) in a letter to his wife, Abigail, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power unto his people. Trust in him at all times, ye people pour out your hearts before him. God is a refuge for us. –Charlstown is laid in ashes.” Whatever your creed, these are the words of a man who didn’t put all his faith in his own powers of brilliance or strength of arm. Self-reliance is noble, but all human selves eventually fail.

The Light and Glory

Adams projected a future beyond himself when he described what he foresaw as the festivities of the future Independence Day in America, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival… 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 ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means.”

May this Independence Day remind us that freedom is a gift of God and that liberty is bought at a price.

And may you, in whatever nation you live, know and accept the responsibility that what you do now, what ideas you support, and causes you uphold, will be paid for by the generations that come after us. For better or worse.

Keep thinking history! Keep thinking ahead!

– Amanda Stiver

July the 4th: Illuminating Independence

The flag of the United States adorns a small flower arrangement in my dining room and bits of red, white, and blue are to be seen inside and outside my house. I may even have an illumination or two. But these things are only the outward symbol of 200+ years of American history and the quest for freedom that began when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776.

We celebrate the 4th day of July and not the 2nd, but as you’ll read in the following quote* written by John Adams (yes, him again) to his wife Abigail the vision for an expansive future was there from the earliest days of the Republic:

“But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

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 ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in the Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

The line, “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty,” always stands out in my mind. How often do we hear the words “solemnity” and “God Almighty” attached to 4th of July celebrations? Fireworks, yes, solemnity, not so much.

But think about the cost of human lives it has taken to maintain this country and its freedoms from the first days of the Revolution to the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan just recently. Not to mention the support crews on the home soil that built the boats, planes, jeeps, tanks, weapons, and other ordnance that saw us through WWII as well as every other major war? Their memory deserves more than a few moments of solemnity in the presence of God Almighty.

“Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory,” – I love these words because not only to they refer to the illuminations that we are so used to seeing on Independence Day, but they also describe the hope of opportunity, freedom of religion, and peaceful existence that America has promised to generations of immigrants from the earliest English, Scots, Welsh, Irish, German, Dutch, Spanish, and French settlers to those who still, with patience, go through all the red tape and hassle it takes to become a legally invested American citizen.

Happy 4th of July! May you see the Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory and may your 4th be solemnized by acts of Devotion to God Almighty!

– Amanda Stiver

*All quotes from Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches edited by William J. Bennett

America: A Vision for the Present

Lately I’ve been reading David McCullough’s John Adams, upon which the recent HBO series was based. Although I won’t write a review yet (I haven’t quite finished it), some interesting observations can be drawn from this era of history.

As I read the comments in letters and writings of individuals like John Adams, Abigail Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Rush and others, I found myself reading sentiments of modern proportions.

Devaluation of money, excessive national debt, wartime alliances, and visions of America for centuries to come and not just as a mere 13 British colonies. After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, men and women worried about America’s acceptance with the British, if we were to be continually their enemy or treat for total peace and recognition. Whether America would be a collection of very loosely confederated, nearly autonomous states, a pure, overwhelming national state with a central government, or united in balance under state and federal establishments.

Policies and Politics

Mud was slung between politicians and between factions. Republicans (at that early stage) stood for continuous revolutions and applauded the bloody, messy French Revolution, while Federalists looked to a strongly central government.

These positions would switch back and forth between liberal and conservative parties through the centuries. Today a less empowered federal government is the aim of conservatives while liberals yearn for a highly centralized, intensively regulated state.

Adams worried about America’s future with dire forebodings about the continual practice of slavery. Constant was his worry about how the new nation would be received in Europe and if it would or should get involved in the wars of that continent.

Past and Present

This is how history affects us. The same worries tie us to an era whose daily life is so very different from our own. The industrial revolution had not yet begun in earnest and everyday life was much as it had been for thousands of years.

You traveled by horse, your house was unplumbed, electricity was a gleam in Benjamin Franklin’s eye, and cooking was done over an open wood fire!

And yet, the human yearning for liberty is not sequestered by physical environment. Despite the differences of our dress, manner, speech, and abode, we all still cling to the hope of freedom – to live a free and virtuous life full of opportunity.

For more on this, please read The Declaration of Independence.

– Amanda Stiver

In Memoriam

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. The origins vary, but days of memorial to fallen soldiers of the American Civil War were observed shortly after the end of that conflict in the late 1860’s.

After World War I Memorial Day acknowledged not just the war dead of the Civil War, but of all conflicts in which America was or became involved. For most Americans this day is just one of a three day weekend, time for a family barbeque or other late spring outdoor activities. We tend to reserve our patriotism (or what there is left of it) for Independence Day on the 4th of July.

Memorial Day used to be a far more formal occasion with parades and solemn observes during which families would decorate the graves of loved ones who had served in the military. This is a day of mourning and I think we’ve lost that distinction.

To that end, let me explain why we mourn by providing you with a list of America’s war dead:

Revolutionary War-             4,435 American dead

War of 1812-                          2,260 American dead

Mexican War-                       13,283 American dead

Civil War-                               364,511 Union dead

289,000 Confederate dead

Spanish-American War-    2,446 American dead

World War I-                          116,516 American dead

World War II-                        405,399 American dead

Korean War-                           36,574 American dead

Vietnam War-                         58,220 American dead

Persian Gulf War-                  383 American dead

Since 1980 until 2008

and including the Persian Gulf War-

45,706 American dead

Total–                                         1,338,350 American dead

These Americans died in dispute or defense of our right to exist as a nation and uphold the daily freedoms upon which we rely.

(Sources: “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics,” http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf, and “Civil War Statistics,” http://www.phil.muni.cz/~vndrzl/amstudies/civilwar_stats.htm, any mistakes in sums or typography are my own.)

Whether or not we have family who served or whether we believe in bearing arms or not, our gratitude is still required to acknowledge the debt we owe those who willingly gave their lives for a purpose greater than themselves.

Human history is a series of conflicts punctuated by occasional bursts of peace and cooperation, or at least grudging armistice. We are not, by nature, a peaceful species. Peace requires reaching outside ourselves for the good of others. Ironically, war produces in those who serve the altruism to sacrifice for others around them in battle or for the ideal of a peaceful and prosperous homeland.

There are other reasons people go to war, but when you try to understand history the exceptions generally prove the rule. Look at the broad view, history is holistic and requires stepping back from the minutiae in order to understand historical trends and see the larger picture in full.

Please think on these things as you mourn today.