Janet M Kelly
During the summer, we often see celebrations of America: Fourth of July with its picnics and fireworks; Flag Day where homes and neighborhoods are festooned with red, white, and blue; and now Juneteenth, a new federal holiday. What makes these celebrations important to honor?
Why Celebrate 4th of July?
“Not for one person, one time, but for all people for all time.” Abraham Lincoln.
On July 4th people break out the grills, set the picnic tables, buy sparklers from the local stand, and get the ingredients for S’mores. Fun! Family! Fireworks! Why? Why is it so important to remember this date?
During the late 1700’s the colonies had grown increasingly restless living under the rules of Great Britain. Their rights as Englishmen were being neglected and they had reached the breaking point. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed to the Second Continental Congress that America separate from Great Britain. The Congressional Delegates needed a document to outline their reasons for independence, knowing all too well that signing that paper would mean treason and likely death. But they signed anyway and a new nation was born.
What Makes The United States Unique?
- The USA is a Republic, an ancient form of government designed to be directed by the will of the people, not a group of elites or a single individual.
- The USA has a definite birthday, July 4, 1776, along with a birth of founding principles that are true, universal, and absolute.
- The people of the USA are a new breed: different countries of origins, different primary languages, different ethnicities, and different religions.
- These different people had a unifying set of commonalities, most important a dedication to the common good. They embraced the idea that “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.”
- Government’s job is to secure those rights
Threats to These Unalienable Rights
- 18th Century Slavery: The buying and selling of humans has been an abhorrent practice throughout history. Ancient people, modern people, this human condition is an affront to our basic principles outlined in the Declaration. Thomas Jefferson had language in the original Declaration that addressed slavery, but the colonies of South Carolina and Georgia lobbied to have it removed. It would take a century until this issue started to be resolved.
- 19th Century Progressivisms: After the Civil War, American elites rejected the truths of the Declaration and supported group rights with a government controlled by unelected bureaucrats…a “shadow government.”
- 20th Century Fascism and Communism
- Fascism (Nazism) places all power in the hands of the government.
- Communism does not believe in the rights of the individual, nor that people are born free and equal. It identifies people as class oppressors or class oppressed. Again, all power goes into the hands of a few.
- 21st Century Threats to Individual Freedoms
- Growing government power and loss of individual freedoms. Under the guise of a pandemic, many individual freedoms have been diminished
- Progressivism has again become a political force, with group rights and unelected bureaucracies taking precedence over individual unalienable rights
- Socialism in government where the power over many goes into the hands of a few elites
The Goals of The Declaration: A work in Progress
Over the decades, through changing social values and laws, the United States has moved closer and closer to those unifying ideals that all men and women are created equal, and each has the God given right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness as free individuals in a Republic, all working toward the common good.
Why Celebrate Flag Day Every June 14th?
During the American Revolution, regiments fought under a variety of flags. George Washington realized there needed to be a flag to unify the different groups of patriots. He established the Continental Colors, but the flag too closely resembled the British flag.
On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution stating “That the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternating red and white,” and that “the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
On June 14, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of the flag’s conception by establishing June 14 as Flag Day. Flag Day is a day to celebrate what unifies us rather than what divides us.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, short for June 19th, marks the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. This moment helped bring the meaning of the Declaration of Independence to all Americans. Although the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery, it took a Civil War and hundreds of thousands dead Americans to end the practice of slavery, and decades of Civil Rights actions to bring the Declaration’s principles closer to realities.
Historically, the Whig Party, one of two major political parties during the 19th century had a faction that was opposed to slavery. The other major party, the Democratic Party, was in opposition to civil and political rights for African Americans. Some members of the Whig party were opposed to slavery and wanted to see it abolished. A new and stronger party was needed. The Republican Party was formed in 1834 to oppose the spread of slavery into the Western Territories, and to oppose the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson who seemed unwilling or unable to tackle the abhorrent practice of slavery. Republicans won the presidency when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860.
Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and other influential Republicans worked diligently to slow the spread of slavery, and finally emancipate all enslaved people in The United States.
The Democratic Party in the South was opposed to these Republican policies. Although laws were made supporting African American freedoms, Texas was the final stronghold and on June 19th 1865, the last slave stronghold was broken. Thus the Juneteenth Celebration began in 1865, but it was called “Jubilee Day.” As of June 17, 2021 Juneteenth is a National Holiday.
Interestingly enough, in 1979 Texas was the first state to officially make Juneteenth a state holiday. It will take many years to undo the damage done because of slavery in the United States. Sadly, slavery is still a horrible reality in other parts of the world today.
We are fortunate to live in a country that continually works toward improving the rights and freedoms promised on July 4, 1776. When you watch fireworks, think of each spark as an individual American… different colors, different intensities, different longevity, different “voices” but collectively they light up the darkness with beauty and hope. That is the potential of the USA. That is the promise of the USA. That is the reason we celebrate America.