In the “Oxford History of the American People,” Samuel Eliot Morison observed, in 1965, that, “If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile.”
One can barely imagine what our country would be like had that one document never been created. Not only did it define our need for freedom from the British Empire, it provided the impetus to withstand all other attempts to take over and force our submission to the rule of others. Without it, our nation would not have evolved into its present shape and substance.
When America was first discovered, it wasn’t wanted. It was a wilderness, an obstruction, a good many years were devoted to trying to get through it or around it and on to someplace else.
Our struggle has been so victorious that here we are, a nation that originated mostly with immigrants, so successful at self-rule and the society we have become, that people from nearly everywhere else keep trying to become a part of it. And, ironically, we are now fighting to keep them out.
Emma Lazarus’ 1883 words which form the inscription on the Statue of Liberty seem to no longer have meaning:
Send me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Maybe it was because my father, a first generation American, was extremely patriotic, or maybe it was because my mother, whose ancestors were here before the revolution, had a well-honed sense of being part of our history, that the Fourth of July was celebrated by our family as Independence Day and not Fireworks Day. I remember parades with patriotic music and seas of American flags. There were speeches, mostly patriotic and sometimes political if it happened to be an election year. We decorated our bicycle wheels with strips of red, white, and blue crepe paper woven in and out of the spokes, and a small American flag clamped to the handlebars. The town’s kids were always included in the parade with their colorful bikes.
If we had fireworks, they were at the end of the day, after the parade and the speeches and the acute awareness that this day was about celebrating our great good fortune in having the freedom our ancestors pursued and won for us. By evening, we had gathered with relatives or neighbors for the more social business of picnics, usually with homemade ice cream, and– after dark– a fireworks display.
The ice cream was made in a hand-cranked churn nestled in a washtub and shrouded with layers of burlap bags to “help keep the cold in.” Dad would have gone to the ice house at some time in the afternoon and returned with a huge block of ice. To me, it looked at least as big as a bale of hay, but it was probably much smaller. Dad would attack this giant ice cube with an icepick and a wooden mallet to turn it into crushed ice just the right size to pack around the shiny cylinder that held the thin, pudding-like mixture that mother had made. Then, mysteriously, he would add handfuls of coarse salt which served to make the melting ice colder than it was without the salt. This is a principle of science that I have learned to accept on faith, for I simply can’t understand how it happens. I prefer to think of it as magic. We kids were allowed to turn the crank at the beginning, when the concoction of milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla was thin and easy to churn. As it began to freeze and got thicker, it was more difficult to turn the handle. Everybody insisted that it was important to keep the mixture moving for as long as possible in order to end up with ice cream that was smooth and not grainy. After all the strongest men available had turned the handle as far as it could possibly be turned, the crank was removed, the paddles pulled out of the ice cream and given to the kids to lick clean while the canister was reclosed, packed with more ice and salt, covered with the burlap bags, and allowed to “ripen” which seemed totally unnecessary to me. How “ripe” could ice cream get in an hour or so? It had tasted fine right off the paddle. Well, it was a tradition, I guess. Right up there with the parades, the speeches, the patriotic music, and the fireworks glowing in the sky.