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Celebrating America

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The Fourth of July is America’s National Day, and it comes at a wonderful time of year. Summer foliage is in full bloom. Farm fields and gardens display the land’s bounty. Wildflowers abound in verdant woods and pastures. Schools are on break, their students free to pursue summertime activities. Families are enjoying their summer pastimes.

The song “Summertime” by George Gershwin communicates the peaceful languor of the season: “Summertime and the livin’ is easy; fish are jumping and the cotton is high.”

This season is particularly sweet in Northern New York, where the nights are cooler and the days more temperate than in many parts of the country. And there is so much to do and explore here in summer — boating and fishing on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, camping and hiking in the Adirondacks or at any one of the area’s numerous state parks.

The arts and entertainment calendar is full, as the issues of Summer Fun attest. Art shows. Museums. Plays. Festivals. Fairs. Field Days. The north country produces a wealth of concerts this time of year. The Fourth of July concert and fireworks display in Watertown’s Thompson Park is a perennial favorite.

The season invites celebration. And on the Fourth of July, Northern New Yorkers and other Americans celebrate freedom with parades, fireworks, picnics and a host of leisure activities. People do what they enjoy and spend time with family and friends.

One of our nation’s great Founding Fathers, John Adams, foresaw that Americans would want to set aside a day each year to commemorate the nation’s birth and independence, although he guessed it would be on July 2. On that day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress approved a resolution that declared the Thirteen Colonies’ independence from Great Britain.

He wrote to his wife, Abigail: “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

That was a prescient thought and worthy prediction, although off by two days. The Fourth of July is America’s signature day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

The legal separation of the colonies from the powerful British Empire had occurred two days earlier, on July 2, 1776.

But it was the explanation for that act of separation, the marvelously eloquent Declaration of Independence, that defined the moment in history and advanced a political philosophy that is synonymous with freedom.

The words of the declaration, authored by Thomas Jefferson and prepared by a committee of five, have inspired and guided the United States from the beginning: “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.”

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The ideas outlined in the document dated July 4, 1776, were “the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The Founders’ definition of political freedom has become the touchstone of American government, shaping our country and inspiring the world.

Those who signed the declaration pledged “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

That was not an idle pledge. Many of the signers suffered severely for their courageous endorsement of American independence. In the Revolutionary War, American patriots fought and died to liberate the country from the foremost global power of the time. Against great odds, they prevailed.

Throughout our history, conscientious, courageous Americans have worked and sacrificed to preserve the great legacy of freedom that we celebrate on July 4. Their example can inspire us to our best efforts — to do what we can for America in our time.

Happy Fourth of July!

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