Opinion & Editorial

Celebrating the independence of the human spirit

Catherine Russell

There are many celebrations of national unity and independence, literally hundreds of them, the world over. Most stand as moments of remembrance of a day when one country formally broke free from the rule of another. 

While the world remains an unsettled and imperfect place, here in the 21st century, there’s a lot of independence to celebrate. The result is that there’s an “independence day” of some sort in nearly every country on the planet, literally from A to Z, from Afghanistan (August 19) to Zimbabwe (April 18). 

The history of each nation’s holiday is unique, certainly, and some celebrations have roots reaching way back into the 1200s (Switzerland, with Swiss National Day on August 1) and even beyond. Oman celebrates the 1650 rebellion that established its freedom from Portugal on November 18. And heck, the Netherlands has two such holidays: July 26 of each year, when they celebrate the country’s 1581 Declaration of Independence from the Spanish Empire, and Liberation Day, or Bevrijdingsdag in the Dutch, on May 5, celebrating its 1945 freedom from the Nazi occupation. 

Those are just a few of the international holidays of freedom, but the fact is that “independence” is celebrated every year by hundreds of millions of people all over the planet, in myriad ways, from silly and joyful to formal and martial. 

The date we celebrate in the U.S. — July 4, 1776 — wasn’t handpicked by the Founders for its comfy spot in the lazy days of summer, by the way. They were just doing what they felt needed to be done in a moment of extraordinary political circumstances, and it all happened to be ramping up through June of 1776. 

These men — and they were all men — were by all reports anything but comfy with the realities of season as they argued their way through the hot, sweaty, humid, and contentious atmosphere of summer in Philadelphia. Imagine having to debate a seminal point of future-making policy for hours on end, without AC and while wearing heavy woolen clothing and a scratchy wig. 

John Adams stubbornly argued to his death that the marked day should be July 2 because that was the day of the actual vote for independence in the Continental Congress. That was one battle Adams lost to the passage of time, with the holiday being formalized as July 4, many years later by Congress in 1941. 

Though we still debate the details as we work our way through social and ideological differences in our country, American independence is long settled. And in this part of Oregon, even if we were to engage in arguments of policy and politics at the Fourth of July, we’d find ourselves lucky, because summers here are reliably sunny, clear, mild, and basically pretty chill. 

Americans and Oregonians of all size, shapes, colors and origins, will gather for the Fourth of July this year celebrating the independence and resilience of the human spirit with special exuberance because the pandemic is mostly now in our rearview mirror, and together with families and friends, we will allow or momentarily set aside our disparate viewpoints on everything from politics to pie, and just enjoy.

Yet what we celebrate nearly 250 years later is that in that swelteringly hot July, John Adams and 55 others signed their names to what we now call “The Declaration of Independence,” whose words have been echoed by generations of Americans and whose tenets have reverberated across the world:

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Catherine Russell is an author and freelance writer. She wrote this for The Chronicle.



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