You likely have a busy Fourth of July schedule already planned. Perhaps you’re preparing for a barbecue in the afternoon, and then you’ll be off to watch the usual fireworks in the evening.
In days gone by, an important part of any Independence Day celebration came in the form of a speech, delivered by some notable local personality, praising the courage and wisdom of the visionary patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Such speeches might dwell on the terrible odds the Declaration’s signers faced, as they dared to defy the tyrannical King George and his merciless army. These talks might also include tributes to the eloquence of Thomas Jefferson, the genius of Benjamin Franklin, etc.
A number of these old speeches have been digitized and made available for free online. Many have been preserved through the good work of the Library of Congress. These speeches make for very interesting reading, as they tell the story of how past generations of Americans saw the Fourth of July.
In 2010, the idea of spending part of July 4th to listen to some religious or political leader drone on about long-ago bits of history sounds, well, like a stodgy old New England Puritan’s dubious idea of “fun.” It sounds more like homework.
So, to avoid taking on a Puritan tinge, this article will certainly not urge readers to junk their planned Independence Day festivities and instead spend the day by (for example) reading over Daniel Webster’s 1851 Fourth of July speech.
However, in the weeks after Independence Day, readers might take a minute or two to look over some of those old Fourth of July speeches. They really do give one a more vivid appreciation of the occasion.
If you had time to skim just one of these speeches, then a worthy choice would be
John Quincy Adams’ 1821 Fourth of July address. It provides an eloquent, thought-provoking and moving summary of the Declaration of Independence’s significance, not only for Americans, but for the entire world.
To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt:
“[The issuing of the Declaration of Independence] will be acted o'er, fellow-citizens, but it can never be repeated. It stands, and must for ever stand, alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light till time shall be lost in eternity, and this globe itself dissolve, nor leave a wreck behind.
“It stands for ever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men, a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed. So long as this planet shall be inhabited by human beings, so long as man shall be of social nature, so long as government shall be necessary to the great moral purposes of society, and so long as it shall be abused to the purposes of oppression, so long shall this Declaration hold out to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties, founded in the laws of nature, and of nature's God.”
Happy Independence Day!